Pakistan launches anti-polio campaign despite Covid-19 threat

Islamabad, Aug. 2, (dpa/GNA) - Pakistan launched a campaign on Monday to vaccinate millions of children against polio, despite the risks posed by climbing coronavirus infections.

The campaign will target more than 23 million children under the age of 5. Around 179,000 front line workers will spread out across 50 districts to administer the oral drops, following Covid-19 safety protocols.

The drive had already started on Friday in 18 districts in north-western province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where many Islamic clerics still oppose vaccination, calling it a western conspiracy to sterilize Muslim children.

“Vaccination campaign amid a new surge in coronavirus cases is aimed at keeping up with immunity of the children against the crippling disease,” a senior Health Ministry official said.

According to official statistics, only one case of polio has been reported so far this year. Pakistan and Afghanistan are among only a few countries in the world where polio is still endemic.

The country came very close to eliminating polio, but recorded 147 cases, a five-year high, in 2019, amid vaccine boycotts and attacks on health workers.

Pakistan started a polio programme in 1994, but the work of the health workers was repeatedly hampered by violent incidents by extremists.

The UN-funded drive to vaccinate children under the age of 5 also faces opposition from religious conservatives, who believe the vaccine, administered in multiple rounds, is intended to make Muslim children sterile.

Pakistan is currently facing a fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic and a surge of new infections dominated by the Delta variant, putting renewed pressure on the country’s weak health care system.