With only 25 cases reported in 2015, polio cases in Pakistan have dropped by a whopping 70 per cent with the Army making advances in Operation Zarb-e-Azb against militants who vehemently oppose vaccination drives, government officials told BBC .
Prime ministerial polio adviser Ayesha Raza said on Wednesday that while it had taken time to eradicate militancy in North Waziristan, the rewards from doing so were “already visible in the polio programme”.
“The army has been a great help in both these areas,” Raza said, adding that with their help, and after receiving funding from the United Arab Emirates, we have been able to extend immunisation drives to high-risk areas.
Officials further added that the country saw the highest number of cases for 15 years in October — approximately 200 – -mostly due to militant attacks. The number in October exceeded the 199 cases in 2001 but was short of the 558 cases in 1999.
Most of these polio infections are heavily present in the tribal regions where militants have targeted health teams on a regular basis.
Doctors often come under the suspicion of being spies and militants accuse the vaccinations to be part of a West’s plot to sterilise Muslims.
Raza told BBC that polio samples from high-incidence zones – which used to be positive for months on end – were now testing negative again.
While The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) had only reported seven cases so far this year, she said Karachi had reported none.
“We got access to populations in Waziristan after more than two years. We have also now penetrated some formerly no-go zones in Karachi,” the polio adviser added.
The officials also confirmed that the number of attacks on polio teams have reduced lately and suspected attackers have been arrested.
Speaking about the decline in the number of polio cases reported in Nigeria and Afghanistan, BBC’s M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad said that both the countries have done equally well if not better.
He claimed that no new cases were reported in Nigeria in 2015, while just one case was confirmed in Afghanistan this year.
In view of the current polio-crisis in Pakistan, Tom Roberts has released a compelling documentary titled “Every Last Child” that spends time with a polio victim and a father whose son must be fitted for brace legs, The New York Times reported.
The film also trails a lady health worker, Gulnaz Sherazi, who lost her niece and sister-in-law to Taliban attacks but continues to serve despite being at the center of a toxic mix of politics, propaganda and terrorism.
The stories humanize the risks involved in the health campaign which has often come under attack by militants belonging to the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
Stunned by Taliban’s brutal violence,in charge of the World Health Organisation program in Pakistan, Elias Durry, says it is a public health campaign and is not supposed to be a war. But that’s what the vaccination project has become, with an implacable enemy and a resentful populace.
Filmed mainly in the first half of 2014, the documentary makes it clear that if polio is left untreated, contagions — of ignorance, fear and conflict — will spread wherever they can.