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May 21, 2019

Not impressed with Sindh’s anti-polio efforts, federal authorities call for meeting

Karachi

May 21, 2019

Expressing serious concerns over the emergence of three new polio cases in Sindh in the ongoing year and terming the situation of polio ‘alarming in Sindh’, the National Emergency Operation Centre (NEOC), Islamabad has requested the Sindh government to hurriedly convene a meeting of the provincial task force for polio eradication to be chaired by Minister of State for Health Dr Zafar Mirza in the coming days to discuss the situation.

Two of the three new polio cases from Sindh this year emerged in Karachi; whereas, one case was detected in Larkana.

In a letter sent to the Sindh chief secretary on Monday, NEOC Islamabad Coordinator Dr Malik Muhammad Safi said in addition to the emergence of three polio cases in Sindh this year, polio virus was also persistently being detected from sewage in the Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Gadap, Landhi, Baldia, Korangi, SITE, Saddar and Liaquatabad areas in Karachi, as well as from sewage in Hyderabad, Sukkur and Jacobabad, which was a great cause of concern for the authorities.

At the same time, the NEOC coordinator maintained, a large number of children were missing getting the oral polio vaccine (OPV) while the number of refusals was also all time high. He said the situation hinted at the lack of ownership and oversight by the commissioners and deputy commissioners in Sindh for polio eradication in their respective areas.

“The sub-optimal implementation of the April NID campaign due to Peshawar incident has further increased the level of risk posed to children in Sindh by the polio,” Dr Safi said, adding that he along with a team would visit Karachi on May 22 and 23 to hold meetings with the Sindh chief secretary, the provincial health minister and the Karachi commissioner and other stakeholders.

He said in order to achieve maximum results and bring all the authorities and stakeholders on one page, a meeting of the provincial task force for polio eradication should be convened on any day between May 23 and May 31.

“[The] minister of state for health is presently in Geneva but he will arrive straight to Karachi on the morning of May 23 and desires to attend the meeting of the provincial task force on polio eradication along with his team,” the NEOC coordinator said.

Karachi’s virus in Iran

In the meantime, for the first time in the last five years, wild polio virus 1 (WPV1) of Karachi origin has been detected in an environmental sample in Iran in its province of Sistan and Baluchestan, polio eradication officials said.

The officials, however, added that the virus was detected in an environmental sample only and no associated cases of paralysis had been detected. NEOC officials said the Sistan and Baluchestan province of Iran borders both Balochistan in Pakistan and Afghanistan and the genetic sequencing had confirmed that the isolated virus was linked to WPV1 circulating in Karachi, Pakistan.

An immediate risk assessment suggests that this detection has limited public health implications, given Iran’s very high levels of routine immunisation coverage and strong disease surveillance. At the same time, this further underlines the risk of renewed international spread of WPV1 from Pakistan and Afghanistan.

It is worth mentioning here that the World Health Organisation recommends that all travellers to the polio-affected areas be fully vaccinated against polio. It also recommends that residents and visitors for more than four weeks from the infected areas should receive an additional dose of OPV or inactivated polio vaccine within four weeks to 12 months of the travel.

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