Pakistan may be polio free by next year: UNICEF health official


PESHAWAR: With an 85% reduction in recorded polio cases in 2015, Pakistan may be declared a ‘non-endemic country for polio virus’ by next year, a Unicef health official said on Monday.

Pakistan, which along with Afghanistan remains the only place where the crippling disease is still rife, has registered only 36 polio cases so far this year, as compared to 306 cases recorded last year.

The year 2014 is considered by health experts as the darkest year for the Pakistan polio eradication programme.

Unicef Team Leader for Polio eradication in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) Dr Muhammad Johar said, “Efforts to eradicate the disease have been severely hindered in recent years by militants who attacked immunisation teams and polio workers were not allowed in certain areas for administering drops.”

“The progress and achievement in polio eradication efforts has raised the confidence of health teams and Pakistan has set the target of complete obstruction of polio transmission in the country by May 2016,” he said, while adding, “In May 2016, Pakistan may be declared a Non-Endemic country for polio virus.”

Aqeel Ahmad, the media liaison officer of the Polio Emergency Operation Center (EOC) Fata, said, “Around 292,000 children from Khyber Agency, North Waziristan and South Waziristan Agencies missed immunisation in 2014 due to inaccessibility to these area.”

He noted that in 2015, only 16,000 children were missed in the country which is highly commendable.

Both Ahmad and Dr Johar associated this achievement to the military’s efforts in improving security, especially after launching Operation Zarb-e-Azab.

According to Dr Johar, “The main reason behind the rise in number of polio cases between 2005 to 2014 was inaccessibility to tribal areas where hundreds of thousands of children were missed from immunization, resulting in the contamination of disease.”

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