Tuesday July 05, 2022

After gap of 15 months, polio returns to Pakistan

The type-1 wild poliovirus (WPV1) was confirmed in the child on April 22, 2022, with onset of paralysis on April 9

April 23, 2022
A child being administered the anti-polio drops. Photo: The News/File
A child being administered the anti-polio drops. Photo: The News/File

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s polio eradication efforts received a dent Friday after wild poliovirus paralyzed a 15-month-old boy from North Waziristan in the first such case reported from the country after a gap of 15 months. This is the third case of wild polio to be recorded globally in 2022.

According to the National Polio Laboratory housed within the National Institute of Health (NIH), the type-1 wild poliovirus (WPV1) was confirmed in the child on April 22, 2022, with onset of paralysis on April 9. The laboratory has also confirmed detection of a positive environmental sample collected on April 5, 2022, from Bannu district of the same province. Both these viruses are closely related. Pakistan had reported one polio case last year on January 27, 2021 in Killa Abdullah, Balochistan.

“This is, of course, a tragedy for the child and his family and it is also very unfortunate both for Pakistan and polio eradication efforts all over the world. We are disappointed but not deterred,” said Secretary Health Aamir Ashraf. “The case has appeared in southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where poliovirus was detected in the environment late last year and where an emergency action plan is already being implemented.

“The National and Provincial Polio Emergency Operations Centres have deployed teams to conduct a full investigation of the recent case, while emergency immunization campaigns are underway to prevent further spread of the wild poliovirus in Pakistan.”

Southern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa had been identified by the polio programme as the area most at risk after wild poliovirus was detected in environmental samples in the last quarter of 2021. Positive environmental samples of wild poliovirus in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa had been found in DI Khan and Bannu divisions.

“This validates the programme’s concerns about virus circulation in southern KP and strengthens our resolve to reach every child with the polio vaccine,” said National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) Coordinator Dr. Shahzad Baig.

In 2020, the province of Khyber-Pakhtukhwa reported 22 cases, while no wild poliovirus cases were recorded in the province last year. Substantial progress has been made recently, with most areas accessible to implement immunization campaigns, but deep-rooted problems and security concerns remain in limited areas. Despite the challenges, the programme’s brave frontline workers continue to reach children with the life-saving vaccine.

Wild poliovirus types 2 and 3 have been eradicated globally, while WPV1 cases are on a historic low. Two other WPV1 cases have been reported this year, one each in Afghanistan and Malawi.

The programme is capitalizing on the momentum gained in the last year and continues to strive for zero-polio. Parents must continue to vaccinate their children during every immunization round until they reach the age of five.

Meanwhile, chairing a meeting at the Ministry of National Health Services, Minister for Health Abdul Qadir Patel called for focused efforts to overcome the last remaining bottlenecks and challenges in finishing the job of polio eradication.

“Pakistan has surmounted the most daunting of challenges and we are now well poised to stop transmission of poliovirus. Even a single case of polio should be taken seriously, and no effort should be spared to ensure complete eradication of the disease,” Patel said. He appreciated the performance of the polio programme and frontline workers and assured full support on behalf of the government to secure the future of children in Pakistan.

Secretary Health Aamir Ashraf, Director General Health Dr. Rana Safdar, Coordinator of the Polio Programme Dr. Shahzad Baig, and heads of international partner agencies attended the meeting.

Earlier, Dr. Shahzad gave a briefing on the status of polio eradication. He informed that due to the consistent efforts of the government and support from international partners, provincial governments, the armed forces, and law enforcement agencies, polio cases have significantly reduced.

Pakistan remains one of only two countries in the world with circulating wild poliovirus, together with Afghanistan. Polio is a highly infectious virus and until this last remaining epidemiological block wipes out polio, children all over the world remain at risk of life-long paralysis or fatality by the poliovirus.