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Staying free of polio in Bangladesh

Having launched a nationwide immunization programme at the beginning of January, Bangladesh is now using mobile health workers to reach around 560,000 children across the country who have yet to be vaccinated against polio.

Teams are going house-to-house to ensure that all remaining children have been given polio drops. By the end of the campaign, 22 million under-fives will have been vaccinated.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the areas where children have yet to be reached are mainly remote hilly regions, or in villages along coastal belts or marshlands where communities are located on temporary ‘islands’ of land which are hard to access. The children of migrants, mostly based in areas bordering India, can also be hard to track-down.

However, with the assistance of bodies such as the WTO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Bangladeshi government is determined to keep the country free from any new cases of polio. Nationwide polio immunization programmes have ensured that no outbreaks have occurred since 2006. Nevertheless, officials remain vigilant, especially along border regions with India, though India has for the first time declared itself as without a single case of polio in the past year.

Meanwhile, health officials in Pakistan are said to be ’despondent’ by the 192 cases of polio reported in the country during 2011 (a higher number than in 2010). Like Bangladesh, Pakistan has been running a nationwide vaccination programme to free itself of polio. However, officials have had to contend with the refusal among parents in certain regions to have their children vaccinated. An expert in child health also believes that high rates of malnutrition could be another key problem. Speaking to IRIN, the Professor of Paediatrics at the Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi told the news agency that research data suggests a lower immune response to polio vaccinations among malnourished children. “With some 40% of our children undernourished, this means a large number may not be responding adequately,” the Professor said.

As mentioned in a previous article, religious leaders in Pakistan are helping to persuade parents in tribal areas to have their children vaccinated. And medical experts hope a greater focus on routine immunisation programmes will ensure children receive the full seven doses of the polio vaccination. But for now, Pakistan’s health officials can only look on with envy at Bangladesh and India, which are currently polio-free. 

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