ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan has initiated its second nationwide anti-polio campaign of the year in an effort to vaccinate 44 million children under the age of 5. The country is showing signs of being close to eradicating the disease.
Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul-Haq-Kakar launched the five-day vaccination campaign in the capital, Islamabad, and urged parents in a televised address to cooperate with the 350,000 health workers who will be going door-to-door to administer vaccine drops to children.
Security measures are in place for the campaign. The government has deployed police and security forces to ensure the safety of the health workers involved in the vaccination drive.
Previous anti-polio campaigns have been targeted by militants who falsely claimed that they were part of a Western conspiracy to sterilize children. Vaccine providers and the police assigned to protect them have been attacked in the past.
Since January, Pakistan has reported two new polio cases, which is a setback to the goal of eradicating the disease that can cause severe paralysis in children. Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan are the only two countries in the world where polio continues to be a threat to children’s health.
In 2021, Pakistan came close to eradicating polio with only one case being reported. Last year, there were about two dozen cases. The cases this year have been reported from the northwestern region of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan.
Afghanistan, on the other hand, has reported only two polio cases in 2022, raising hopes for disease eradication. Five cases have been reported so far this year.
Before the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August 2021, they had banned U.N.-organized vaccination teams from conducting door-to-door campaigns in areas under their control. The group suspected the team members could be spies for the previous government or the West.