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Urgent need to eradicate polio in Sindh Province focus of United Nations visit

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Karachi: A push to turn back the increasing number of reported polio cases in Sindh Province and eradicate the contagious and crippling virus from Pakistan completely is the focus of a top-level UN visit to Karachi.

The UN team is made up of WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, Dr Hussein A. Gezairy, WHO Representative for Pakistan Dr Guido Sabatinelli, and UNICEF Pakistan Representative, Dan Rohrmann.

During their visit to Karachi today – in support of the Ministry of Health’s polio eradication efforts – the team met with polio staff working in both Sindh and Balochistan Provinces, along with the Governor of Sindh. The discussion with the Governor focused on successful implementation of Union Council-level plans, in order to achieve the target for polio eradication in Sindh, in line with the National Emergency Action Plan.

The increasing number of polio cases arising in Sindh as well as other parts of the country is causing mounting concern, particularly as the polio virus is spreading fast even though it is currently the low season for transmission.

Of the 44 cases reported so far in Pakistan this year, 12 cases are from Sindh alone. Other reported cases around the country are in FATA (18), Baluchistan (11), and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (3). The 44 total reported cases compares to 20 for the same period last year.

Reported polio cases in Sindh represent nine infected districts/towns compared to only one case in 2010. Tando Mohammad Khan, Badin and Sanghar districts have reported two cases each, whereas Tando Allahyar and Thatta Districts have reported one case each. The infected towns of Karachi are Orangi, Sadar, SITE and Gadap, all with one case each.

In Sindh Province, there have been issues around identifying and reaching children. During the May polio vaccination campaign in Sindh, an estimated 43 per cent of the missed children could not be vaccinated because either the team missed the house or visited the houses but could not identify all the eligible children. This is the highest rate for vaccination teams not reaching target children in the world. There is also concern about the discovery of wild poliovirus found in samples collected from Karachi sewage water.

Dr Gezairy says: “We must ensure the right vaccination teams visit every house in Sindh province. The vaccination teams in each town of Karachi must be made up of mature adults, who speak the language of their communities, and who are properly trained and closely supervised, especially in towns like Gadap”.

Minister of Health Sindh, Dr Sagheer Ahmed, says: “To eradicate polio in Sindh, we need to reach the target of 95 per cent coverage in each Union Council from the next campaign onwards. We do have problems, however, we are determined to solve them, and we need the support of the media and donors to succeed.

“The high level commitment of the President and Prime Minister of Pakistan will give us the umbrella to improve accountability and take disciplinary action against poorly performing officers. Improving routine immunization efforts is equally important for eradicating polio.”

Mr Rohrmann says: “The success of national polio eradication efforts will not only contribute to meeting the rights of children to survive, grow and develop as per the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, but will also have a significant impact on global polio eradication efforts.

“We should also remember that behind each of the 44 cases experienced today, there is a face of a child and a family who are severely impacted. UNICEF stands ready to continue and indeed increase support to the Government of Pakistan at both federal and provincial levels along with WHO and other partners. Every effort must be made to turn the tide and, within the timeframe, to eradicate polio from Pakistan forever.”

The Regional Director WHO- Dr Gezairy said: “No other country in the world has the level of support for polio eradication that we are witnessing in Pakistan, so we expect results. The first six months of the National Emergency Action Plan has seen good results, but the challenge today is to ensure this translates even more rapidly into the districts and Union Council levels.”

Earlier in the week, the UN team were in Islamabad to meet with polio staff working in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, along with high-level government representatives.

Polio is a highly infectious viral disease that attacks the nervous system. Children under five years of age are the most vulnerable to the disease, but timely immunization can prevent infection. Children can be infected with polio when they eat or drink food and water contaminated with the virus, or when they come into direct contact with an infected person’s faecal matter. The virus damages nerve cells and can cause crippling paralysis, and can be fatal in a small number of cases.

For more information, contact:
Gul Afridi
Media and Advocacy Officer
World Health Organization (WHO) Pakistan
Phone: +92 51 925 5075, +92 51 925 5077, +92 51 925 5184, +92 51 925 5185
Cell: +92300 501 0640
Fax: +92 51 925 5083


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