Pak could be world's last polio reservoir: UNICEF

Daniel Toole, UNICEF's Regional Director for South Asia who is in Pakistan to meet government and UN officials, has emphasised the need to urgently improve local polio response, vaccination outreach, management and accountability for results.

"We must ensure access to all children as specified in the President's National Emergency Action Plan for Polio Eradication in Pakistan. We have a huge task ahead of us, and we must build on lessons learned and act now," Toole said.

Since beginning of the year, Pakistan has continued to see rising numbers of polio cases. In 2011, a total of 63 cases were reported compared to 36 in the same period last year.
Balochistan province has reported 22 polio cases this year, more than any other region in Pakistan.

The virus, which circulated in five high-risk districts in Balochistan, has spread to districts previously not infected for the past five years.

The militancy-hit tribal belt has reported 20 cases, Sindh province has 14, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province has six, and Gilgit-Baltistan has one case.

Punjab, with 60 per cent of Pakistan's population, has not reported any cases of polio this year and UNICEF said this was a "major accomplishment that must be sustained".
The National Emergency Action Plan launched by President Asif Ali Zardari in January identified the need to improve the quality of implementation and programme management as key risks for polio virus transmission.

Toole acknowledged that reaching every child with polio vaccine is a challenge in Pakistan.

He emphasised that with "firm commitment from local authorities, close follow-up, and by taking direct responsibility for reducing the number of polio cases, Pakistan can eradicate polio".

"It is now vital for leaders at provincial, district and union councils to be fully accountable and implement the vision of the government," Toole said.

Eradicating polio from Pakistan depends on delivering oral polio vaccine to every child, including the most vulnerable and hardest-to-reach.

The next polio vaccination campaign will be held during September 19-21, targeting 16.5 million children in districts at highest risk for continued circulation of the polio virus.

The spread of polio in Pakistan affects Pakistani travellers, particular those going to Saudi Arabia for Haj, who must now show proof of polio vaccination on entry.

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