Polio In Pakistan Could Get Significantly Worse This Year Even As The World Is Celebrating Eradication Of The Virus From Africa
According to independent experts monitoring the worldwide vaccination campaign.
Modelling suggests the country could suffer hundreds of cases in 2020, and the crippling virus is now claiming victims in areas once considered clear of the scourge.
The coronavirus pandemic struck the nation of more than 220m just as health officials were trying to overhaul the national effort after a grim 2019 which had already seen cases soar.
The monitoring board set up to check progress by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) last year declared efforts in both Pakistan and Afghanistan were in crisis in the face of security threats, public suspicion and mismanagement and political infighting.
The latest report from the board, led by Sir Liam Donaldson, a former Chief Medical Officer of England, said Pakistan appeared willing to turn the programme around, but was running out of time.
“If that does not happen in the next six months, if those changes do not get rolling, the wheels will come off the Pakistan bus,” their report warns.
“The situation for polio programme leadership at all levels could not be one of higher pressure.”
A three-decade-long worldwide campaign to stamp out poliovirus has come tantalisingly close to ending a disease which caused 350,000 cases per year in the late 1980s.
Yet despite the recent victory in Africa, cases are again rising in its last two haunts – Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistan saw 12 cases in 2018, and 145 last year. Moreover there have been other outbreaks linked to mutated strains from vaccine.
Meanwhile in Afghanistan swathes of are beyond the reach of polio teams because of Taliban edicts banning door-to-door visits.
The monitoring board said the vision of a polio-free world currently seemed “a distant pinpoint of light”. The polio programme is in “dire straits,” the board’s five members warned.
Too many people had believed that the job was almost done last year, leading to complacency amid a “jaw-dropping” slump in performance.
“The phrase now being used to encourage everyone is: ‘The last mile is always the most difficult’. The polio programme is too forgiving of itself,” the board said.
This news was originally published at telegraph.co.uk