Tens of thousands of health workers across Pakistan started the first polio vaccination drive in several months, amid a continuing fall in coronavirus cases, officials said on Monday.
Around 40 million children are to be vaccinated for the crippling disease, which has been eradicated around the world aside from in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where it remains prevalent.
The drive, which is part of a UN-funded campaign, is due to run for a week and targets all children under the age of five, said Safdar Rana, the doctor who heads Pakistan’s anti-polio programme.
Healthcare workers administering the vaccine are to be guarded by thousands of police and troops in regions where they are routinely attacked by militants.
Pakistan launched a polio vaccine drive nationwide in February and had planned further campaigns during the year, after a warning by the World Health Organisation, WHO, of the risk of a new epidemic.
But the campaign was suspended for several months due to the novel coronavirus. The number of polio cases has risen steeply during that time.
“We will have to move swiftly to cover the backlog,” Rana said in a video statement.
So far this year, 73 children have been infected with polio in Pakistan, according to official statistics. There were 147 cases in 2019.
After peaking at 306 in 2014, polio cases had fallen to a single-digit figure in 2017, before rising again in recent years.