RAWALPINDI: Rawalpindi might lose its polio-free status in the coming days as the National Institute of Health (NIH) has found traces of polio virus from the city’s sewers for the third time in the last three months.
Recently, the NIH reported that the polio virus had been detected in the sewage-water samples collected from the cities of Rawalpindi and Multan.
In Rawalpindi, samples were collected from Safdarabad area on August 25, while samples from Multan were collected on August 25. The report in this regard, which was recently issued, found samples of the virus in both cities of Punjab.
Similar reports had confirmed the presence of the polio virus in Rawalpindi in June and July this year, while the virus was last found in Multan in June 2012.
The samples were collected from Leh Nullah at Safdarabad between Pirwadhai and Dhoke Hassu and adjoining areas of Fauji Colony. In Multan, these samples were collected from Kot Abdul Fateh.
A Punjab health department official told Dawn that prior to the report, polio eradication activities in Multan were being considered satisfactory but the report had proven this wrong.
“If adequate measures are not taken immediately, the polio virus might spread from Multan to neighboring districts of Punjab including Muzaffargarh, DG Khan and Rajanpur in addition to the adjoining belt in Sindh from Kashmore to Sukkur and Larkana. It may even reach Jaffarabad division of Balochistan,” he said.
The official added that the virus in Rawalpindi had been persisting for three consecutive months, indicating the poor quality of the polio campaigns.
“While Pakistan’s polio eradication authorities are claiming progress and boasting of eliminating polio within a few months, the virus is sneaking into key areas of Punjab,” he said.
“The province is not currently facing the complicated situation prevailing in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Therefore, the Punjab government has a challenge at hand to prove its claims of efficient polio campaigns,” he said.
Similarly, an NIH official, requesting not to be named, told Dawn that it was an alarming situation for Rawalpindi as the polio virus had been detected thrice in three months.
“This means the polio virus is in circulation and there is a dire need to stop through increased vaccination,” he said.
When contacted, World Health Organisation (WHO) Chief Coordinator for Polio Eradication in Pakistan, Dr Elias Durray, admitted that the virus had been detected in the sewers of Multan and Rawalpindi.
“The situation is disturbing for us as well as for the provincial government,” he said.
He said it was a serious issue, and the WHO and provincial government would work together to increase immunity of children in the area. Dr Durray added that the detection of polio virus for the third time in the same area of Rawalpindi would increase the chances of the disease in the local residents.
When contacted, District Officer Health Dr Khalid Randhawa said no polio vaccination had been launched in Ramadan in these areas. This was the main reason why the polio virus was detected in the samples collected in July and August.
“The health department launched an anti-polio drive and Short Interval Additional Dose (SIAD) in high risk union councils in September. The next environment sample will most likely not detect any polio virus,” he said.
Dr Randhawa said the next anti-polio drive would be launched in the district from September 30.
“The presence of more than 40,000 children coming from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is a looming threat. The Fauji Colony, Pirwadhai and areas around the I.J. Principal Road and Peshawar Road are already included in high risk areas,” he added.