Pakistan has suspended anti-polio campaign for an indefinite period due to severe security threats and increasing attacks on polio workers in different parts of the country.
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The National Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) for polio, Islamabad, issued a red alert to all the provinces on Friday, directing them to stop the anti-polio campaign all over the country to protect 270,000 polio field staff from attacks. The nationwide campaign was launched in all districts of the country on April 22 and Friday was the last catch-up day.
Post-campaign evaluation has also been deferred as a large number of children were missed during the drive ending on Friday
“After the Peshawar incident, the uncertain and threatening situation for the frontline polio workers has emerged and we need to save the programme from further major damage,” reads the alert issued by the EOC.
It says that it has been unanimously decided by the national technical team and Global Polio Eradication Initiative (SPEI) partners to call off the catch-up activities of April National Immunisation Day campaign across the country with immediate effect.
“Hence, no further vaccination or catch-up activity will be conducted in any area for this campaign,” said the EOC in the letter.
An official said that the World Health Organisation had been using the LQAS as new sampling methodology under the GPEI to document the status of anti-polio coverage and areas of weak coverage with statistical reliability.
He said the national anti-polio programme had suffered a major setback due to frequent attacks on polio teams in different parts of the country, prompting the federal government to suspend LQAS activities as well.
He said the action was taken in the wake of the Peshawar incident in which a violent mob torched a government health facility and the murder of a woman polio worker in Chaman, besides attacks on staff in Sindh, Balochistan and Punjab in recent days.
The EOC in a separate official letter addressed to all the provinces conveyed apprehension about increasing attacks on polio workers, directing them to suspend LQAS activities.
The letter reads, “It has been decided by the National EOC that no post-campaign evaluation (LQAS) will be conducted anywhere in the country.”
The official said the EOC had acted due to fear of pathetic vaccination coverage of 40 million targeted children across the country because of security threats and attacks on polio workers.
In Punjab alone, he said, it was for the first time that 700,000 children were either missed or their families refused to get their children vaccinated, putting lives of too many children at risk of contracting the crippling disease, during the last four days of the drive which started on April 22.
The status of unvaccinated children in such a large number may create embarrassment for Pakistan as the Technical Advisory Group under the GPEI is scheduled to visit the country in coming weeks.