ISLAMABAD – Four new polio cases were detected in Pakistan on Monday, bringing the number of patients affected by the crippling disease this year to 41 in a country where a widespread eradication campaign has been marred by misinformation discouraging vaccination.
The number of polio cases found in 2019 is more than those detected in the previous three years together.
Iftikhar Firdous, spokesperson for Babar Atta, the government’s top coordinator in the drive against polio, tweeted that two each new cases were reported from Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces.
“The predominant factor among majority cases is zero-dose routine immunization and parental refusal to vaccinate their children,” Firdous tweeted.
He said majority of the new polio cases (25) have been reported this year from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region of northwest Pakistan.
Atta also tweeted that the virus was being spread by “hidden” children who have missed vaccinations during the government’s anti-polio drive.
He said the “only way forward” to get rid of the disease was to “restore public trust in vaccination drives using innovative communication strategies.”
Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are the only countries where polio continues to be endemic.
The anti-polio campaign in Pakistan faces tough opposition from many Pakistanis who distrust vaccinations believing them to be anti-Islamic that cause infertility. Some even think it is a western campaign to wipe out Muslims.
In 2017, there were eight polio cases in Pakistan, 12 in 2018, and so far in 2019 there are 41 – a setback that led the World Health Organization to say in May that the campaign in Pakistan has failed to progress as expected.
In late April, a rumor spread that the vaccine had made several children sick, causing thousands of parents to take their children for health check-ups in a hospital in Peshawar.
The incident lead to several attacks on vaccination teams which left six (vaccinators and policemen) dead.
Faced with the situation, Atta made changes to the vaccination strategy with a less aggressive approach, less coercion, less police presence and without reporting parents who rejected vaccinations.