Pakistan to resume polio campaign as Covid-19 cases decline
A health worker gives a polio vaccine to a child in Lahore during the anti-polio campaign in Pakistan.
Islamabad - About 800,000 children to be vaccinated during the three-day anti-polio campaign
Pakistan announced on Tuesday it would resume vaccinations against polio next week, months after the drive against this crippling children's disease was halted because the novel coronavirus had overwhelmed the country's health system.
The anti-polio campaign would last three days, from next Monday, with the plan to have about 800,000 children vaccinated, the officials said. Police departments have received requests to ensure the safety of the polio workers.
Rana Mohammad Safdar, who oversees anti-polio operations in the country, said polio workers would adhere to social distancing regulations while carrying out their duty.
The announcement comes after Pakistan's powerful army chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, told Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates last month that despite the challenge of Covid-19, the government planned to restart polio vaccinations across the country.
Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are the three countries in the world where polio - a disabling and life-threatening disease caused by the polio virus - is still endemic. The nonprofit Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has helped Pakistan and other places worldwide fight the disease.
The World Health Organisation at a meeting in June reviewed the polio situation in Pakistan and elsewhere and extended travel restrictions, initially enforced in 2014, that require people to get vaccinated against polio a month before travelling to Pakistan.
Pakistan had hoped to eliminate the disease by 2018, when only 12 cases were reported. But there was a surge in new cases the following year. Since January, Pakistan has reported 58 new polio cases from various parts of the country, including the northwestern region bordering Afghanistan.
The Taleban and other militants regularly stage attacks on polio teams and security forces escorting them,a s well as vaccination centres and health workers because they claim the anti-polio drive is part of an alleged Western conspiracy to sterilise children or collect intelligence. The attacks on polio teams increased after it was revealed that a fake hepatitis vaccination campaign was used as a ruse by the CIA in the hunt for Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.