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Thursday April 25, 2024

Year’s first polio case reported in Bannu

The crippling disease has affected both legs of the boy, say officials

By M. Waqar Bhatti
March 18, 2023
A health worker administers polio vaccine to a child during Polio Free Pakistan campaign in Latifabad. — APP/File
A health worker administers polio vaccine to a child during Polio Free Pakistan campaign in Latifabad. — APP/File

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan reported the year’s first polio case on Friday when a three-year-old child was paralyzed by Wild Poliovirus 1 polio in Bannu, confirmed an official of the National Polio Laboratory at the National Institute of Health (NIH).

“A three-year-old from Bakakhel Tehsil of Bannu district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has been paralyzed by the Wild Poliovirus 1. This is Pakistan’s first polio-positive case in the current year,” he said. Commenting on the situation, Federal Health Minister Abdul Qadir Patel said since early last year, all polio cases had been from the southern districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).

The seven polio-endemic districts of south Khyber Pakhtunkhwa include North Waziristan, Upper and Lower South Waziristan, DI Khan, Bannu, Tank and Lakki Marwat. No human transmission of wild poliovirus has been reported outside these districts since January 2021.

“It’s deeply tragic that a three-year-old child has to suffer with lifelong disabilities by a disease that is entirely preventable,” said Federal Health Minister Abdul Qadir Patel, adding, “Polio teams continue to reach children in these areas that suffer from poor routine immunization and low nutritional standards.”

“We are looking at all important epidemiological factors related to this child and his surroundings to trace the origins of the infection that may help us identify missed areas or populations to take corrective actions and stop the virus circulation,” said Dr Shahzad Baig, Coordinator, National Emergency Operations Centre.

“The programme will continue to aggressively control the spread of wild polio and we need the support of parents and caregivers to ensure that their children are vaccinated in all campaigns.”

This is the first polio case in Pakistan in six months. The only two countries in the world where wild poliovirus remains endemic are Pakistan and Afghanistan, while 99% of the world has eradicated the disease.

Meanwhile, a delegation of the French Agency for Development and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation met Federal Health Minister Mr Abdul Qadir Patel to discuss avenues for cooperation in social protection and health, with a focus on polio eradication.

The delegation was visiting Pakistan to identify the country’s needs as it works towards interrupting poliovirus transmission in 2023, and to understand areas for support in light of the climate catastrophe of 2022, which left more than 33 million people in need of aid.

During the meeting on polio eradication, Minister Abdul Qadir Patel said, “Our health service infrastructure was severely damaged in many districts and thousands of people lost their homes and livelihoods, placing a severe strain on our social protection mechanisms after the 2022 floods. We are still recovering, but despite these toughest of times, Pakistan has not diluted its focus from polio eradication. We owe our children of Pakistan a polio-free future, like children all over the world, deserve a life free from a preventable paralytic disease.”

The Gates Foundation delegation was led by Jay Wenger, Global Head for Polio Eradication, while the French Agency for Development delegation was headed by Agnès Soucat, Director of Health and Social Protection.

The delegation members appreciated the progress made by Pakistan last year and expressed their wish that the end to polio was very much in sight with only seven districts remaining polio-endemic. All polio cases after 2021 have been reported from southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

“Thanks to the generous support of the international community, Pakistan has been aggressively fighting the poliovirus. Support from donors to close the gap on funding so we can successfully conduct immunization campaigns - the impetus needed to make it to the end of this journey. We are actively working to eliminate the virus in the last remaining geographical area and in pockets of under-immunized populations,” the minister added.

“Investment in polio is an investment in health systems,” said Special Secretary MoNHSRC. “The polio programme has proven how it can offer the most reliable support for the most challenging of health emergencies.”

“When the pandemic hit Pakistan, within days AFP surveillance teams became Covid surveillance teams. After the Covid vaccine arrived, polio workers were at the forefront of tackling vaccine hesitancy and making citizens aware of Covid-19 vaccination sites during door-to-door campaigns,” said Dr Shahzad Baig, Coordinator for the National Emergency Operations Centre for Polio Eradication. Remarkable support was seen during the floods too, he added.

“Thousands of polio workers were affected by the floods. But even at a time when they lost so much themselves, they were on the ground helping at health camps organized by the Polio Eradication Initiative.”