Pakistan still struggling to eradicate polio

In this file photo, a Pakistani health worker administers polio vaccination drops to a child in Peshawar. (AFP)
Updated 19 October 2017
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Pakistan still struggling to eradicate polio

KARACHI: In a recent report, the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) for polio expressed concerns about the quality, reliability, capacity and authenticity of surveillance data from the polio program in Pakistan.
The country has been urged to revisit the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) to identify gaps. A striking observation is the number of children still missed during immunization rounds.
“The Polio Program’s performance in the last three seasons (covering 15 immunization rounds) is revealing,” the report said.
“In Pakistan, even after attempts to go back to communities to find the children who had been missed, the approximate numbers unvaccinated were: 767,000 (low season 2016); 760,000 (high season 2016); 858,000 (low season 2017).”
Karachi
Health Department officials say the metropolitan city of Karachi is in the most vulnerable situation when it comes to polio proliferation.
Dr. Fazlullah Pechuho, secretary of the Health Department in Sindh province, said the department is aware of the emergency.
“Every month, 5,000 people come to Karachi from different parts of the country and from Afghanistan. They’re a guest population. We don’t know whether their children are properly immunized or not,” he told Arab News.
“In Karachi alone, there are 50,000 missing children, which means we have no trace of their immunization.”
Pechuho said no one should be allowed to enter the city unless they are immunized. “People have to take responsibility for their children. Parents should be penalized for refusing immunization. Their ID cards should be blocked.”
An official who has been working with the polio team in Pakistan since 1999, and who supervises a team of 80 workers in Karachi, told Arab News on condition of anonymity: “We haven’t been able to track children who are carrying the polio virus. It’s a moving population from the tribal belt of Pakistan that comes to Karachi during winters and goes back during summers.”
Ground support
“Workers fighting the virus have no support on the ground,” the official said. “They’re not respected in society. People don’t let them vaccinate. They face death threats and are paid a pittance, without food and transport.”
He added: “I see well-paid officers who sit in air-conditioned rooms, but those who are fighting on the ground have nothing. We’re warriors with empty hands.”
He continued: “If we make polio vaccination certificates compulsory for all education admissions, and even for passports and national ID cards, people will start taking the campaign seriously. The government has to make stringent laws.”
Lack of awareness
Health worker Sajida Kazi said the major challenge in eradicating polio in Pakistan is lack of awareness.
Those who refuse vaccination for their children “believe it’s a conspiracy hatched by our enemies to destroy us. They also make it a religious issue, that the medicine has ingredients that are un-Islamic,” Kazi told Arab News. “We need support from our religious scholars and national heroes to create awareness.”
But Christopher Maher, manager of polio eradication and emergency support at the World Health Organization (WHO), said the IMB report shows a decline in the estimated number of missed children.
“It’s worth noting that the number of children still missed in each round (of vaccination) comes to less than 3 percent of the estimated target population of children under five years of age for the country,” he said.
Global initiative
The GPEI, a public-private partnership, was launched in 1988, and has invested more than $14 billion via the WHO and UNICEF to support polio eradication activities in more than 70 countries.
In 2011, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, in collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, announced a partnership that made a combined donation of $100 million to buy and deliver vaccines to children in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In 2013, the UAE hosted the inaugural Global Vaccine Summit in Abu Dhabi, where Sheikh Mohammed committed another $120 million between 2013 and 2018 to fight the disease.


Eritrea responds to Ethiopia PM’s olive branch

Updated 15 min 15 sec ago
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Eritrea responds to Ethiopia PM’s olive branch

  • Eritrea and Ethiopia remain bitter foes after a 1998-2000 conflict that drew comparisons to the First World War
  • Even after the end of the war, the border remains heavily militarised and disputed

ADDIS ABABA: Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki is dispatching a delegation to Addis Ababa for “constructive engagement” with arch-foe Ethiopia after peace overtures this month from its new Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, a senior Eritrean diplomat said on Wednesday.
Isais made the annoucement — a potentially significant breakthrough in one of Africa’s most protracted conflicts — earlier on Wednesday, Eritrea’s ambassador to Japan, Estifanos Afeworki, said on Twitter. He gave no further details.
Eritrean information minister Yemane Ghebremeskel did not respond to requests for comment.
Eritrea and Ethiopia remain bitter foes after a 1998-2000 conflict that drew comparisons to the First World War, with waves of conscripts forced to march through minefields toward Eritrean trenches, where they were cut down by machine gun fire.
Casuality figures are disputed in both countries although most estimates suggest 50,000 Ethiopian soldiers died, against 20,000 on the Eritrean side.
Even after the end of the war, the border remains heavily militarised and disputed, most notably the town of Badme which was part of Eritrea, according to a 2002 international arbitration ruling.
Since then, Addis has ignored the ruling and refused to pull out troops or officials, to the fury of Asmara.
However, Abiy, a 41-year-old former soldier who has embarked on a radical economic and political reform drive since taking over in March, stunned Ethiopians this month when he said Addis would honor all the terms of the settlement between the two countries, suggesting he was prepared to cede Badme.
In parliament this week, Abiy also acknoewledged the tensions continued to inflict a heavy economic cost on both countries and said Addis should no longer hide this price tag from the Ethiopian people, another stunning departure with the past.
There has so far been no official response to Abiy’s overtures from Eritrea, one of the Africa’s most closed states.