Islamabad said Wednesday it had “declared war on polio,” after a damning international report slammed the country’s campaign to tackle the virus as a “disaster.”
Cases of the crippling disease have soared to a 14-year high in Pakistan this year, with 235 confirmed infections—more than double the total for the whole of 2013.
Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world where polio remains endemic but years of efforts to stamp it out have been badly hit by opposition from militants and attacks on immunization teams. The problem is concentrated in the northwest, where Taliban militants banned vaccination in North and South Waziristan.
Musadik Malik, an aide to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, said the government was launching a new drive against polio focused on “outcomes.”
“The prime minister has declared war on polio. The P.M. believes every child is his and no child will be left behind,” he told reporters. “We are committed irrespective of the hardship, irrespective of the challenge.”
The government hopes to take advantage of the cool winter months, when polio transmission falls off, to strike a decisive blow against the disease, he said.
The relaunch of the polio drive comes after the Independent Monitoring Board of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative issued a highly critical assessment of Pakistan’s efforts to tackle the disease. “Pakistan’s polio program is a disaster. It continues to flounder hopelessly, as its virus flourishes,” the report by a panel of international experts late last month said. It lambasted political commitment and quality of public health leadership as “totally inadequate.”