Pakistan has been struggling to eliminate the dreaded polio virus for 42 years
Call it apathetic attitude of successive Pakistani regimes in not prioritising the health of its citizens or dub it a lingering misfortune, the fact remains that the country is struggling to get rid of polio (Poliomyelitis) since 1974, research shows.
Polio immunisation campaign in Pakistan had started some 42 years ago in 1974, though practical efforts for eradication with the Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) had officially commenced in 1994.
The infection remains endemic despite over 100 rounds of vaccination being carried out in the past decade.
No Pakistani government has ever tried to motivate the polio survivors by telling that even the former US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945) had contracted the illness in 1921 during a family vacation.
The illness had resulted in Roosevelt's total and permanent paralysis from the waist down, compelling him to seek out innumerable treatments including electric currents, ultraviolet light, massage, and mineral baths - whatever might improve his atrophied legs. He also consulted a number of other physicians and therapists in a vain effort to revitalise his muscles.
Elected to four terms in office, Roosevelt is the only US President to have served more than two terms of office.
Kerry Packer (1937-2005), the legendary Australian tycoon who had revolutionised the game of cricket, also lived with polio. Despite the terrible experience, Kerry had continued to excel in athletics throughout his life and attained great fame and fortune.
The great Indian leg-spinner Bhagwat Chandrasekhar (born 1945) had also contracted polio. At a very young age, polio had left his right arm withered.
Chandrasekhar played 58 Test matches, capturing 242 wickets at an average of 29.74 in a career that spanned 16 years.
Ben Bradlee (1921-2014), the former vice president of "The Washington Post," had suffered from polio too.
Known for challenging the federal government over the right to publish the Pentagon papers and for overseeing the publication of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's stories documenting the Watergate scandal, Ben Bradlee had served as executive editor of the "Washington Post" from 1965 to 1991.
In 1990, researchers at the School of Public Health at the prestigious Johns Hopkins University in the United States had quantified the disease burden of various diseases in Pakistan.
Research had showed that a Pakistani person with polio on the average suffers loss of 1.13 healthy life years.
The study had showed that the duration of disability of polio, on the average among 1,000 persons, was 81.84 years, the equivalent of diseases including diphtheria, childhood meningitis and measles etc. Quite ironic!
By April 2016, according to "The Guardian," the polio virus was only endemic in Pakistan and the war-torn Afghanistan.
In 1988, the virus was paralysing 1,000 children every day across 125 countries, but the "Global Polio Eradication Initiative" of the World Health Assembly had literally banished the disease from its presence.
This campaign was spearheaded by national governments, WHO, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF, and was supported by key partners including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
In one of its April 11, 2016 reports, "The Guardian" had stated: "If the virus is wiped out, polio will become only the second human-hosted virus to be eradicated since the end of small pox in 1980. So far this year, seven cases of wild--as opposed to vaccine-derived--polio virus have been recorded: two in Afghanistan and seven in Pakistan.
“Since the start of the global polio eradication initiative in 1988, transmission of the wild polio virus, which used to paralyse hundreds of thousands of children every year, has ceased in all countries apart from Afghanistan and Pakistan. There have been false dawns in this battle, such as in 2013, when the virus re-emerged in Nigeria, Syria and Iraq, where it had previously been eradicated. All three are now free from polio once again."
The credible British media house had gone on to write: "The WHO is concentrating its efforts in three areas known to be reservoirs for the virus – the Pakistani city of Karachi and two cross-border corridors, around Quetta Block and in the Peshawar district. In Karachi, the WHO is intensifying its efforts to reach pockets of children missed during previous vaccination drives. In March 2015, 471 people had been imprisoned in Peshawar and surrounding villages under government orders on charges of endangering public security."
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), not fewer than 54 polio cases were identified in 23 Pakistani districts. Peshawar had topped the list with 12 cases.
The WHO states on its website: "Polio (poliomyelitis) mainly affects children under 5 years of age. One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis. Among those paralysed, 5 per cent to 10 per cent die when their breathing muscles become immobilised. Polio cases have decreased by over 99 per cent since 1988, from an estimated 350 000 cases then, to 74 reported cases in 2015. The reduction is the result of the global effort to eradicate the disease. Today, only 2 countries (Afghanistan and Pakistan) remain polio-endemic, down from more than 125 in 1988. As long as a single child remains infected, children in all countries are at the risk of contracting polio. Failure to eradicate polio from these last remaining strongholds could result in as many as 200 000 new cases every year, within 10 years, all over the world. In most countries, the global effort has expanded capacities to tackle other infectious diseases by building effective surveillance and immunisation systems."
The website further reads: "In 1994, the WHO Region of the Americas was certified polio-free, followed by the WHO Western Pacific Region in 2000 and the WHO European Region in June 2002. On March 27, 2014, the WHO South-East Asia Region was certified polio-free, meaning that transmission of wild poliovirus has been interrupted in this bloc of 11 countries stretching from Indonesia to India. This achievement marks a significant leap forward in global eradication, with 80 per cent of the world’s population now living in certified polio-free regions. More than 15 million people are able to walk today, who would otherwise have been paralysed. An estimated 1.5 million childhood deaths have been prevented, through the systematic administration of vitamin A during polio immunisation activities."
The International News, April 23, 2016