Community-based strategy can contain polio threat in conflict-hit areas

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KARACHI: The threat of polio in high-risk areas of the country can be reduced through a package of community-based strategies integrating maternal child health services and routine immunisations.

According to a research conducted by health experts from the Aga Khan University in partnership with the Peshawar Medical College, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Centre for Global Child Health at the Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto – series of interventions introduced in 387 sites of Bajaur, Karachi and Kashmore expanded the coverage of polio vaccine.

Interventions, including an introduction of pictorial health awareness campaigns, community mobilisation and engagement through local volunteers, were said to have made the difference in the areas inhabited by children, especially vulnerable, to contracting polio.

Details of the research-based study published in The Lancet Global Health acknowledged that Pakistan, actively engaged in a global fight against terrorism, was faced with serious challenges in its efforts against the crippling disease.

These challenges were said to include the absence of children at their homes during immunisation drives; healthcare workers being denied access to particular areas or being unable to cover all homes in an area, distrust of vaccination activity among the population, and fatigue caused by recurrent polio-focused immunisation drives.

Researchers of the published study were of the opinion that running of holistic health camps after national immunisation drives that addressed the unmet need for mother and child health services made the difference in these areas.

These steps were said to have enabled low cost, accurate health information as well as vaccinations to be provided to over 50,000 families, helped address the problem of children being missed in national drives and alleviated the potential hesitancy of those refusing polio vaccines delivered through the frequent door-to-door immunisation campaigns.

Furthermore, by focusing each intervention in a distinct cluster, the researchers were able to assess the effectiveness of each approach and to recommend which measures would help meet global and country polio eradication targets most effectively.

The researchers also referred to suspicion of immunisation activity in the country leading them to test the approach of building trust within communities.