Humanitarian Health Action

IDPs in NWFP, Pakistan - WHO IDP Health Focus No. 1

WHO supports the polio vaccination campaign conducted in IDP hosting districts of NWFP

National Immunization Days (NIDs) were carried out from 28 to 30 May 2009 by the Ministry of Health with the support of the World Health Organization and other partners. A total of 1,762,629 children under five years of age in the 5 IDPs hosting districts of NWFP have received the polio drops in order to build up their immunity against the debilitating disease. This is the first time that majority of these displaced children are accessible. Before the forced displacement, they were living in areas where polio teams could not go due to security restrictions. Beside the administration of polio vaccine, children in the age group of 6 months to 5 years also received vitamin A capsules. WHO and partners are encouraging the Ministry of Health to make best use of this opportunity for improving the vaccination of these children not only against polio but also other vaccine-preventable diseases.

Provincial Minister for Health, NWFP, Syed Zahir Ali Shah administering polio drops
Provincial Minister for Health, NWFP, Syed Zahir Ali Shah administering polio drops

Such a massive vaccination operation requires considerable organization and well-synchronized logistic management. Overall, 86 744 vaccination teams, 15 409 area supervisors and 2712 zonal supervisors have taken part in the national campaign. Some 39.6 million doses of polio vaccine and 32.8 million vitamin A capsules have been provided to four provinces, including AJK, FANA and Islamabad. In the North West Frontier Province inauguration ceremony was held at Jalozai Camp in district Nowshera on 27 May. Health Minister Syed Zahir Ali Shah inaugurated the campaign, which was attended by the Director General Health, NWFP and various health partners.

Polio is a highly communicable disease for which there is no treatment. The virus spreads from person to person by oro-fecal route. It enters the body through the mouth when a child eats contaminated food or drinks contaminated water. Once the virus enters the body, it multiplies in the intestines and invades the nervous system, damaging the nerves and leading to paralysis which is almost everlasting.

Fully immunized children may not contract disease themselves but may silently and anonymously spread the disease. Polio transmission is more likely to occur in communities where there is poor personal and environmental hygiene. NWFP's recent massive population displacement, combined with sub-standard sanitation and hygiene conditions, can fan the spread of the virus among unvaccinated (unprotected) children. Simple hygiene practices are important preventive measures, including hand washing after using the toilet, as well as before handling and eating food.

For one case of polio, it is estimated that 200 children have contracted the virus but show no symptoms. These children continue excreting the virus in the environment for several days, thereby endangering the unvaccinated children in the community.

Since the start of 2009, 17 confirmed cases of polio have been reported in Pakistan. The government, supported by WHO, UNICEF and health partners, is working hard to conduct high quality vaccination campaigns, ensure homogeneously high coverage and continued progress towards eliminating the virus. Pakistan, Nigeria, Afghanistan and India are the world's four remaining countries where polio is endemic. Vaccination campaigns will continue until no more polio cases are reported from any part of an endemic country for three consecutive years.

One polio victim, Mohamed, contracted the virus as a child and developed the disease's most severe symptoms leaving him crippled for the rest of his life. Two drops of the polio vaccine administered at regular intervals would have eliminated the risk of contracting the disease. But for Mohamed it is too late. He won’t walk again.

“When I was a child 50 years ago, there were no vaccination campaigns to vaccinate children and I was unfortunate enough to catch the poliovirus," said Mohamed, who is paralysed. "My parents were ignorant. They did not know that vaccination was so important. That’s how I became paralysed. Now, everyday I say to myself that I would be ready to drink 2000 drops of polio vaccine to get my legs back."