After the break another 2.8 million newborns have skipped polio vaccines.
After a four-month pause due to the Coronavirus outbreak, Pakistan resumed its polio vaccination program Monday, which health officials feared would trigger an increase in cases of debilitating disease.
The country is one of only two in the world where polio continues to be a serious issue.
Vaccination teams in the southern port city of Karachi went door to door, flanked by armed police, administering polio drops into children’s mouths without touching them, inline with new Coronavirus safety guidelines.
“Right now we can’t say what impact the four-month suspension will have on our fight against polio, but one thing is sure — that the current year is going to be worse than the previous years in regard to the number of new cases,” Zulfiqar Babakhel, a spokesman for the country’s vaccination authority, told AFP.
As well as the pause to the campaign, a further 2.8 million newborns also missed out on polio vaccinations, he said.
Muhammad Nadeem, a 63-year-old shopkeeper from Karachi said his family had been waiting anxiously for their two-year-old son to be vaccinated against the highly infectious disease.
“It is a matter of our son’s future, and today we are finally feeling relieved after four months of fear and impatience,” he said.
The drive will first target 800,000 children under the age of five in districts where polio is in continuous circulation — including in parts of Quetta, Karachi and Lahore — before broadening to a nationwide campaign by the end of the year.
Health minister Zafar Mirza said the programme was restarting as a result of the Coronavirus situation in Pakistan is improving.
Authorities have declared more than a quarter of a million Coronavirus cases, although with low testing the true figure is expected to be much higher.
Rana Muhammad Safdar, who leads the polio eradication program, said that the temporary suspension had “significantly increased the difference in immunity among vulnerable children.”
Gains made at the beginning of the year have been reversed, adding up from 12 in 2018, after cases have risen to 147 in 2019.
So far this year 60 cases have been reported, but experts said the impact of the pause could take months to emerge.
The United Nations children’s agency UNICEF warned in May that millions of children were at risk of diseases such as diphtheria, measles and polio after the Coronavirus pandemic disrupted routine immunisation services around the world.
Pakistan is one of only two countries where polio remains endemic. The other is neighbouring Afghanistan, where last month officials detected the disease in areas previously declared free of it, following a similar pause in vaccinations. The inoculation teams are often viewed with suspicion in both countries.
Opposition developed after a fake vaccination drive organized by the CIA to help track down former Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
As Pakistan attempted to eradicate polio, a new threat arose in the form of a growing global anti-vaccination movement.
The outbreak has drawn followers worldwide, fueled by scientifically false allegations and proliferated on social media, leading to a revival of once-eradicated, highly infectious diseases.