The polio immunisation campaigns have resumed in Pakistan and Afghanistan after the coronavirus lockdown had hampered the vaccination process in the the last two polio-endemic countries of the world. Months of lockdown had left 50 million children without their polio vaccine, the UNICEF said in a statement.
In Afghanistan, the immunization drive was resumed in three provinces in July, while a second campaign covering almost half of the country will begin this month. In Pakistan, 780,000 children have been vaccinated in the initial round that was conducted in the last week of July. Another round is scheduled to begin later this month.
“These life-saving vaccinations are critical if children are to avoid yet another health emergency,” said Jean Gough, UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia.“As the world has come to see only too well, viruses know no borders and no child is safe from polio until every child is safe.”
The polio immunisation campaigns were stopped in Afghanistan and Pakistan in March after several countries imposed a lockdown to cur the spread of coronavirus. Amid absence of vaccinations, reported polio cases have reached 34 in Afghanistan and 63 in Pakistan, including in some previously polio-free parts of the country.
As the immunisation drive resumes amid the coronavirus pandemic, safety measures have been taken to keep the frontline healthworkers safe.
"While every effort will be made to reach children nationwide in both countries, UNICEF is concerned that that up to 1 million children in Afghanistan could miss out as door-to-door vaccinations are not possible in some areas and parents will have to make their way to health clinics to have their child vaccinated," UNICEF said in a statement. It has also expressed concern as the suspension of vaccination in Pakistan has resulted in the expansion and introduction of the disease into new areas of the country.
“Although we have experienced new challenges and a set-back in the fight against polio because of COVID-19, the eradication of this contagious disease will get back on track and is firmly within our reach,” said Jean Gough. “Together with the respective Governments and other partners including the WHO, Rotary, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and with the dedicated work by frontline health workers,we are committed to reaching every child.”