Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Polio Returns

Afghanistan and Pakistan are the only two countries in the world where polio is still endemic. Some people don’t take polio seriously because there is no direct death involved in it, but it does have a huge human cost. Pakistan was very close to becoming  polio free, with only 12 cases in 2018, but last year the number of cases rose to 147. In the same year, Pakistan was  accused of covering up the resurgence of the P2 strain of the virus, which was thought to have been eradicated in 2014. So far this year 47 cases have been reported. The  virus spreads easily in summer and this year could see more than 200 cases. Experts fear that Pakistan is back to 2014 levels, the worst year in recent records.

Officials say the disease has spread beyond the three core areas of Karachi, Quetta and Peshawar, and is now present in central Pakistan. There is now also a fear among Pakistani officials that the virus could spread to other parts of the world. It would not take it a long time to spread.

“Nothing can be worse than this situation. We have positive samples everywhere. It is strengthening and spreading,” a scientific expert in the programme told the Guardian.

Trump’s freeze on US funding for the WHO, along with the focus on Covid-19,  has also made  it hard to fund the polio programme. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is one of the founding members of the GPEI, and also provides assistance and funds for the polio programme. “CDC-supported programmes and activities will be put at risk the longer a funding halt continues,” Benjamin Haynes, deputy branch chief of the CDC, told the Guardian.

Pakistan spends less than 1% of GDP on health services, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s 2019 report, while the WHO recommends an allocation of 6%.  Pakistan needs to invest in public health not in weaponry. 


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