10/19/2010, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Pakistan might be losing the battle against polio

by Jibran Khan
Experts view sceptically Pakistan’s declared goal of becoming polio-free in the near future. UNICEF and WHO must shoulder the blame as well.
Islamabad (AsiaNews) – Pakistan has recorded its 78th case of polio, the 12th in October, and the trend appears to be upward. Compared to last year, the figures are discouraging. In 2009, 89 cases were recorded, a number that will be certainly surpassed over the next few months. “Pakistan may be losing the fight against polio”, said a senior official with the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Some experts are saying that senior officials with WHO, UNICEF and the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) are working on “cosmetic presentations” for the annual meeting of the Technical Advisory Group (TAG).

In the recent past, hundreds of thousands of children have not been vaccinated in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), increasing the number of polio cases. “It is very unfortunate that the leadership of the Pakistan polio programme has not made any serious efforts to engage the armed forces of the country to ensure accessibility to the areas,” an anonymous WHO official said.

UNICEF is also to blame, because it has failed to stress the importance of access to regions under military control; 57 of the 78 cases of polio were in fact recorded in FATA.

For the WHO expert, Pakistan might find it extremely difficult to defend its case at the TAG as it is currently ranked as the worst performer amongst the four countries of the world where polio is endemic.

This year, Nigeria recorded only eight polio cases compared to 382 last year thanks to a new communication strategy involving religious authorities.

“India’s polio programme was performing exceptionally” well. Not only have they “cordoned the most deadly type of the polio virus known as P1 type virus and only P3 cases were being recorded but the total number of recorded polio cases stood at 39 as compared to 431 last year,” he said.

Even Afghanistan had only 18 cases this year, a sign of improvement.

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