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May 3, 2019

Samples show 50pc increase in poliovirus in Lahore

Top Story

May 3, 2019

LAHORE: The environmental samples of poliovirus in Lahore have registered 50 per cent increase, which experts consider a blow to national efforts to eradicate polio in the country.

The second case of polio has been confirmed in Lahore in less than three months after remaining polio-free for 8 years despite aggressive routine and supplementary immunization campaigns. An 11-year-old male child from the slum area of Allama Iqbal Town in Lahore has been confirmed of suffering from Wild Polio Virus-1 in laboratory reports released by National Institute of Health (NIH), Islamabad, on May 1, 2019, after an eight-month-old male child from Shalamar Town area in Punjab’s capital city was detected with the WPV-1 on February 14, 2019.

The vaccination history of the child suggested that child had received Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) when he was below 5 years of age. The routine immunization card was not available and Supplementary Immunization Activities (SIAs) remained unknown.

The child is residing in multiple family dwelling with two separate families. He has 8 siblings including 3 under 5 years of age with zero dose. Sources told The News that routine immunisation has failed to achieve the optimum results in urban slums of Lahore, which according to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) report, comprised 45 per cent of Lahore’s total population. The SDGs instructions emphasize special focus on slum localities as the population in urban slums remains on the move and hence largely remains unregistered.

The officials of Health Department, Punjab, on condition of anonymity, informed that, although routine immunization in Punjab had been achieved up to 86 per cent but it remained around 80 per cent in Lahore’s slum areas and continuously dropping further. The dream of eradicating the crippling disease in order to make Pakistan polio-free has been shattered. It has put a huge question mark on performance of routine immunization under Expanded Program of Immunization (EPI), National Immunization Days (NIDs) and Supplementary Immunization Activities (SIAs) conducted across the country.

Babar Atta, Focal Person for Prime Minister’s Polio Eradication Program, confirmed the case reported from Lahore, which took the tally of confirmed cases so far this year to nine including two each from Lahore and Bannu, one each from Hangu, Waziristan, Bajaur, Khyber Tribal district and Karachi. When contacted, Director General Health Services, Punjab, Dr Haroon Jehangir did not respond to the call and text message to comment on emergence of polio case from Lahore.

Earlier, the federal government had suspended the anti-polio campaign and called off the catch-up activities of April’s National Immunisation Day (NID) campaign across the country on April 26, 2019, due to mounting attacks on polio workers across the country. The government also suspended the post-campaign evaluation — Lot Quality Assurance Sampling (LQAS), with a view to protecting 270,000 polio field staff. In Punjab alone, he said, it was for the first time that 700,000 children were either missed or their families refused to get their children vaccinated, putting lives of too many children at risk of contracting the crippling disease, during the last four days of nationwide campaign which started on April 22 with April 26 as the last catch-up day.

Punjab Health Minister Dr Yasmin Rashid, in a statement, had stated that unfortunately, Pakistan is among three other countries that haven't been able to eradicate polio. “Creating scares and spreading fake news about polio drops may serve vested interests but it's dealing a major blow to Pakistan’s efforts to eradicate the menace,” she said, adding that concerted efforts were needed for the cause. Focal Person on Prime Minister’s Polio Eradication Program Babar Atta also chaired the high-level meeting at the NEOC on Thursday to discuss the challenges faced by the End Polio Programme in Pakistan. “I am confident that together we will address these challenges and achieve our goal of a polio-free Pakistan,” he added.

In a statement, he said, the previous government in Punjab had not taken ownership of polio eradication programme and remained in a state of denial regarding the presence of polio virus. “Though the environmental sample for polio virus was being reported from Lahore but the government always tried to shift the responsibility on Khyber Pakhtunkhawa’s government by pointing out its origin from Peshawar. The KP government had, however, taken the responsibility and owned polio eradication programme instead of shifting the blame on Afghanistan where the virus had originated. “We have to take the responsibility and eradicate the virus,” he added.

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