KARACHI, Aug 11: The Sindh health authorities and the world health body are equally worried about the detection of the second polio case in the city in a one-year-old girl who has been vaccinated nine times, it emerged on Sunday.
Sonia, daughter of Mir Mohammad Kakakhel, a Pakhtun labourer and resident of Gadap Town’s Machhar Colony in union council 4, is the third polio victim this year in the province.
Earlier, a boy of Bin Qasim Town and a 17-month-old girl from Mehar Taluka in Dadu district were detected with type P-1 wild poliovirus.
It is the 24th polio case in the country this year with just one in Punjab while the majority of the cases are from the country’s north where people widely resist vaccinating their children for a host of reasons and fears propagated by some religious groups.
Officials, however, said that Sonia’s case was hugely different: “something which occurs in one out of a million children”.
Dr Aslam Pervez, district officer (preventive health), said: “The child had been vaccinated thrice in routine anti-polio campaigns and got six more doses in our special campaigns in this very sensitive region of Gadap to cover the children who could have been missed out in earlier campaigns.”
He said that the girl suffered from fever on July 9 upon which the family took her to certain local medics who injected syringes in her feet and shoulders but failed to bring about relief to her.
“After visiting many area doctors, the family brought her to the National Institute of Child Health, where doctors diagnosed pain and weakness in both of her legs. They suspected a polio attack and sent her samples to the National Institute of Health (NIH), Islamabad,” said Dr Pervez.
The NIH sent the results last Thursday to the local authorities confirming that the child was the country’s 24th polio victim reported so far this year.
The officials said the result had perplexed both the local officials assigned to run polio drives and the World Health Organisation because it was a rare incident in a child who succumbed to the deadly lifelong disease despite being duly vaccinated.
“This happens rarely, around one in a million children. It happens in a child whose body refused to be immune despite vaccination,” said Dr Pervez.
The officials said that the new case might bring more difficulties for vaccinators as the victim belonged to a community that had resisted a lot against the vaccination — sometimes violently — in the past and the area her family belonged to was notorious for the most violent attacks on polio workers.
“The situation will certainly create more difficulties for our people. This part of Gadap has been a neighbourhood where we cannot vaccinate children without the help of the police and security apparatus. Now, the people could become more cautious,” said a senior official.
However, he said that the government would try to persuade the people with the fact that such rare situations were possible and if they refused to administer polio drops to their children altogether it would put every child of theirs in danger.
While declining the possibility of any defect in the vaccine, the officials said that the provincial health department, the WHO and other healthcare bodies would look into the matter to know the exact cause behind it.
The polio campaigns were abruptly ended more than once after attacks on a WHO doctor and several polio vaccinators last year.
After an attack on December 17, 2012 when a young volunteer associated with the anti-polio campaign was shot dead in Gadap Town in a third such attack of the year in the area on polio workers, the three-day anti-polio campaign in the most volatile union council 4 was stopped.
In July 2012, a local paramedic associated with the polio vaccination was shot dead and a World Health Organisation doctor, Fosten Dido, from Ghana and his driver were wounded in two separate attacks in the Sohrab Goth area.
As many as 739 polio cases have been detected over the past 17 years in Sindh, official figures show.
According to the figures compiled by the provincial health department, since 1997 when a proper data for polio cases in Sindh started to be maintained, up to 274 such cases had been reported, which is a record.
In 1998, the number declined to 97 while in 1999, when vitamin A was included in the nationwide anti-polio drive, it reduced further to 53.
The national polio immunisation days (NIDs) campaigns were started in 1994 to eradicate the disease.
Last year showed the best result for the provincial anti-polio campaigners yet the disease crippled four children.
Apart from Pakistan, the only two other countries where polio cases were reported last year were Nigeria (over 200 polio cases) and Afghanistan (over 60 polio cases).
Efforts to tackle polio in the country have been hampered over the years by local people’s misconceptions and suspicions about vaccination, which has engendered violence.
Resistance also comes from parents, who believe in wild conspiracy theories about the polio vaccine.
According to the WHO, more than 3.5 million Pakistani children missed out on polio vaccination when nine immunisation workers were shot dead in various parts of the country in December last year.
Some 1.75 million of those children were from Sindh.