Health

U.N. program: Polio thriving on ‘unchecked’ Afghanistan-Pakistan border

The United Nations-backed Global Polio Eradication Initiative attributed a recent resurgence of the potentially deadly disease in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, home to the one the debilitating virus’ last remaining bastions in the world, to the “unchecked” flow of people across their mutual border, the Guardian reported Wednesday.
Analysts have also attributed the ongoing presence of polio in Afghanistan and Pakistan to insecurity and a ban on immunizations imposed by the Taliban factions in both countries.
Over the last three decades, there has been a 99.9% decrease in wild poliovirus cases across the globe. … However, despite the major global investment, in 2019 we are yet to cross the finish line to complete polio eradication.
Along with Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan are the only countries in the world where the highly infectious and potentially lethal polio disease remains endemic or “usually present,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The unmonitored movement of people across the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan threatens efforts to eradicate polio from the two countries, as the year’s first cases of the virus are recorded in the volatile region.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative said people traveling through unchecked crossings is believed to be one of the main causes of the spread of the disease in the area.
Aziz Memon, the national chair of the Pakistan Polio Plus Committee, deemed “conflict, political insecurity, and remoteness of areas, combined with a highly mobile population and logistical challenges” as “significant obstacles” to Islamabad’ efforts to eradicate the disease.
“Cross-border vaccination is critical to our program in the fight against polio. The mass influx of population has caused many to fall through the cracks and families with children with low routine and no supplementary immunization are the real challenge to the program,” he told the Guardian.
The Afghanistan-Pakistan region is home to the largest concentration of terrorist groups in the world with many of them finding sanctuary along the international boundary that separates the two countries, the Pentagon has repeatedly reported.
Breitbart News found that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) bill recently signed into law by President Donald Trump will devote millions in American taxpayer funds for “border security programs” as well as money for “cross border stabilization” between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Pakistan has reportedly argued that its U.S.-assisted efforts to erect a fence along its border with Afghanistan will not only keep Afghan jihadis out of its territory, it will also help eradicate polio once and for all.
Afghanistan and Pakistan often accuse one another of backing terrorism. The U.S. has repeatedly accused Pakistan of harboring terrorists including the Afghan Taliban, an assertion denied by Islamabad.
While the U.N. acknowledged that “some parents believe that vaccines are not safe, or not halal, and refuse to have their children vaccinated,” it also conceded that vaccination bans in Afghan Taliban strongholds in southern Afghanistan — Kandahar, Helmand, and Uruzgan provinces — “has led to more children becoming inaccessible.”
In its latest assessment of the war, the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a watchdog agency, noted:
A fatwa issued by the Pakistani Taliban targeting polio workers complicates vaccination outreach, while large-scale population movements between the two countries increase the risk of cross-border transmission. The Taliban have falsely referred to polio-vaccination drops as “poison,” and began targeted killings of polio workers in June 2012.
In coordination with the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) along with national governments of polio-affected countries, the polio eradication initiative has yielded results in its efforts to annihilate polio from the face of the earth, the Guardian points out, noting:
Since 2015, the number of cases have been steadily declining. According to Pakistan government figures, there were 54 reports of poliovirus in 2015, followed by 20 in 2016 and eight in 2017. But there was an increase in numbers last year, when a dozen cases were reported throughout the country, with 11 of them coming from the border regions.
In January, the WHO described the Afghanistan-Pakistan border as the last polio stronghold in the world, explaining, “The world stands on the cusp of an unprecedented public health success: the global eradication of a human disease for only the second time in history.”
Islamabad has deployed personnel to its border to vaccinate children against the virus, Memon declared.
Currently, the eradication initiative is reportedly targeting “high-risk populations” in the volatile border provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan, home to the likes of the Taliban and its al-Qaeda allies. Polio is a highly infectious, disabling and potentially lethal virus, spread in areas with poor sanitation.
Individuals can contract the disease through contaminated food and water. “There is no cure, and the disease mainly affects young children, so early immunization is the only defense,” the Guardian notes. “Consequently, reaching children at the right age is a principal focus of the immunization teams.”

Monitoring Desk

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