The southeastern Sindh Province of Pakistan has introduced one of the nation’s strictest measures against polio by enforcing the mandatory vaccination of all children enrolled at public and private schools.
Chief Minister of Sindh Murad Ali Shah issued the legislation during an Anti-Polio Task Force meeting and announced schools and parents that refuse to comply would be liable to “strict action.” The decision comes after a recent province-wide vaccination campaign failed to immunize 175,000 children; with 86,000 parents denying vaccination and parents at 88,472 houses announcing their children were not home.
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"This is a [real struggle] for saving our future generations and our people, but still, schools are refusing to immunize their children,” Shah frustratingly told reporters. “We can no longer tolerate this refusal.”
Pakistan is one of only three nations that suffer from endemic polio. The country reported 12 polio cases last year, with one located in Sindh. All six districts of Karachi, the capital of Sindh, remain classified as “districts of high risk”.
In December, the poliovirus was discovered in the sewage of Karachi and seven other populous Pakistani cities. While no one in Sindh has recorded polio symptoms since the discovery, paralysis only occurs in around one of 200 cases. Those who have been infected, however, continue to excrete the virus through feces for upwards of eight weeks.
"Our case counts are declining, but as long as the virus is present anywhere in the country, the threat of polio remains for the vulnerable children,” announced Rana Safdar, National Emergency Operations Coordinator of the Polio Eradication.
Peshawar: Massive Victory in the Fight aginst Polio: After 8 years of staunch opposition to polio vaccine. Mufti Laeeq Ahmed of Ahle-Hadith Shura decided to support the Programme. This will give us a big boost in reaching thousands of children missed due to religious refusals. pic.twitter.com/SdbbdVthKc— Babar Atta (@babarbinatta) February 10, 2019
Vaccination refusals in Pakistan have long been linked to the opposition of polio drives by certain religious leaders.
On Monday, however, a senior religious leader and longtime opponent of polio vaccination, Mufti Laeeq Ahmad, announced his support for the polio program and vaccinated himself in a public polio ceremony. Pakistan’s Focal Person for Polio Eradication Babar Bin Atta told the News International Ahmad’s support would help overcome immunization fears throughout the country.
“We are optimistic his support will remove some of the misconception surrounding the polio vaccine,” he stated.