IMB sounds alarm bells over poliovirus situation in Pakistan

By Hamza Ameer
Islamabad, Aug 31 : Expressing serious concern over the prevailing and increasing cases of poliovirus in Pakistan, the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) in its latest assessment of the global polio eradication programme warned that if Pakistan does not adopt transformative measures to eradicate the virus from the country in the next six months, the situation could become dire.

The report has highlighted that Pakistan is at risk of wild poliovirus spread, with cases increasing up to at least 500 by the end of 2020 and vaccine-derived poliovirus cases reaching 1,000.

The 18th report of the IMB has warned that Pakistan needs to take immediate steps to eradicate poliovirus, making changes to its implementation strategies. Or else “the wheels will come off the Pakistan bus”.

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“Unless renewed, well-planned and sustained polio vaccination is resumed for the remainder of 2020, the consequences of the inevitable large outbreaks of both kinds of poliovirus will be dire for Pakistan, Afghanistan and probably other countries as well,” the IMB report stated.

The report also expresses major concern over the outbreak of poliovirus in places previously declared as polio-free.

The IMB team was given a detailed briefing by Zafar Mirza, the former special assistant to the Prime Minister for Health, along with the National Emergency Operations Centre Coordination and representatives from the Pakistan Army.

However, the “unexpected” departure of Mirza came at a time when the IMB report was being compiled.

The report also highlights that currently there is no focal person to the Prime Minister for polio eradiation in the country. The report also maintains that Zafar Mirza was carrying a heavy workload which “inevitably meant that his time for polio would be under severe pressure”.

The report also highlights the factor behind the failure in curbing the spread of poliovirus in Pakistan, asserting that the programme suffered a setback from the “absence of political unity”.

“In November 2019 meeting, Mirza had announced that he would bring all political parties and interests together for regular meeting at national level. However, later the doctor told the board that no formal meeting of this kind has yet taken place, citing change in his approach to engaging with the political leadership through “behind the scenes” strategy.

“This sends a confusing message about the government’s ability and determination to create an unambiguous and non-partisan commitment to everything necessary for success in polio eradication.”

Pakistan is among the very few countries in the world where poliovirus continues to show an active presence.

The report has called on Pakistan to take immediate steps towards ensuring the virus is eradicated from its soil, urging that proactive steps needs to be taken within a span of six months, before the virus starts spreading like wildfire.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-generated from IANS service.

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