Almost 40 million children in Pakistan did not receive polio vaccinations: UNICEF
Islamabad : The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has said in an annual report that almost 40 million children in Pakistan did not receive polio vaccinations between April and June amid the COVID-19 outbreak, when all polio campaigns were suspended.
Saudi Gazette reported that in 2020, 83 cases of wild poliovirus were reported in Pakistan, a decline from 147 in 2019. However, the number of vaccine-derived cases rose, from 22 in 2019 to 121 in 2020.
In many areas of Pakistan, parents are reluctant to have their children vaccinated against polio, according to the UNICEF report. "These are generally areas where public services are weak and communities suffer multiple deprivations," it added.
In 2020, UNICEF conducted 80 health camps in the 40 super-high-risk union councils in Pakistan.
Under the umbrella of the National Emergency Operations Centre, UNICEF supported 14 polio vaccination campaigns in 2020. These campaigns provided 97.8 per cent of 39 million targeted children with oral polio vaccination -- a crucial step in the effort to eradicate polio worldwide, Saudi Gazette reported.
The UNICEF said it procured 302 million doses of the polio vaccine, which ensured 100 per cent vaccine availability for all campaigns.
Last month, Pakistan had "indefinitely" suspended its nationwide anti-polio campaign, to protect some 270,000 polio field staff from growing attacks, amid its inability to stamp out religious extremism.
The anti-polio drive which was launched in April was suspended last week after the country's National Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) for polio directed all provinces to halt the drive, Deutsche Welle reported citing local media.
This comes as Pakistan is among only a few countries in the world where polio is still endemic, along with Afghanistan.
George Laryea-Adjei, the Regional Director of United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) had said there are still hundreds of thousands of 'invisible children' who are susceptible to polio and must be vaccinated.
Speaking in an interview with Dawn on June 11, he said: "There is a group of children called the 'missing children' whose parents are refusing for them to receive vaccines for various reasons. They are not easy to find. They don't go to schools or they don't have birth certificates. These are the invisible children. There are quite a number of them." (ANI)