The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led government is taking great care to regulate and counter anti-vaccine propaganda on social media to address misconceptions among the masses about polio campaigns, Special Assistant to the Prime Minster on National Health Services Dr. Zafar Mirza said on Sunday.
The senior health official told a private news channel that the government had in recent days prepared a coordinated and comprehensive plan to make Pakistan polio-free by next year. He said the biggest barrier to successful polio vaccination campaigns was misinformation spread over social media platforms that was accelerating cases of people refusing to allow their children to be vaccinated, which was putting children’s lives at stake.
The number of polio cases this year has surged, with latest data showing nearly 90 cases have been found nationwide compared to just 12 last year. Observers have blamed the government for failing to maintain the practices established under the previous regime. Not helping matters have been various incidents of government incompetence that have severely hampered vaccination efforts. Earlier this year, hundreds of children were rushed to hospital with complaints of abdominal pain, vomiting and fainting after being administered the vaccine. The incident angered local residents so much, they burned down a health unit in Peshawar, where the incident took place, in protest.
Mirza said polio vaccination was essential to securing a bright future for the coming generations and the government would not allow anyone to sabotage these efforts. He claimed the reported cases of the deadly poliovirus had surged this year because a greater number of people were refusing vaccinations, especially in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and Balochistan provinces. The government has determined a new strategy to prevent this, he added.
Last month, a report emerged alleging that the government had administered the wrong vaccines, perpetrating an outbreak of the most dangerous strain of the poliovirus in the federal capital. Islamabad has denied this, claiming the outbreak was not linked to the vaccines.
Polio remains endemic in just three countries globally: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.