bhutta2_ARIF ALIAFP via Getty Images_pakistan covid Arif Ali/AFP via Getty Images

The Secret of Pakistan’s COVID-19 Success

Pakistan has made major progress in combating polio since the mid-1980s. Earlier this year, the expertise and infrastructure instrumental in containing poliovirus pivoted quickly to stopping the novel coronavirus, and have played an essential role in the country’s effective pandemic response.

KARACHI – When the novel coronavirus first arrived in Pakistan in late February, there was widespread concern about the country’s ability to manage the increased disease burden. COVID-19 cases were rising quickly as people returned home from other regional hotspots, and the public-health system urgently needed to be reinforced.

In this moment of crisis, Pakistan turned to the team working to eradicate polio. Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan are now the only two countries in the world where wild poliovirus remains endemic, after Africa was recently declared free of the disease. The Pakistani government works closely with the Global Polio Eradication Initiative – a partnership including Rotary International; the World Health Organization; UNICEF; the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – to vaccinate children in every corner of the country and track the virus to its remaining redoubts.

Pakistan has made major progress in combating polio since I returned to the country to begin my academic and public-health career some 35 years ago. At that time, children paralyzed by polio would wait at nearly every traffic intersection and beseech passersby for support. Today, it is extremely uncommon to find young people affected by polio – a testament to the eradication program’s efficacy.

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