ISLAMABAD: Peshawar has emerged as the largest endemic poliovirus ‘reservoir’ in the world and more than 90 per cent of the current cases in the country are genetically linked to the city, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced here on Friday.
According to the latest genomic sequencing results of the Regional Reference Laboratory for Poliovirus, 83 out of 91 polio cases in the country during the past year are genetically linked to the virus circulating in Peshawar.
Moreover, 12 out of the 13 cases reported during the year from Afghanistan are directly linked to Peshawar.
Pakistan is the only polio-endemic country in the world where the number of cases increased last year.
The WHO recommended that “repeated, high quality vaccination campaigns”, accompanied by strong monitoring, be launched in Peshawar to stop the transmission of the virus and protect children from the disease.
According to the report, during the past six months, all the samples collected from various places in Peshawar showed presence of the highly contagious wild poliovirus strain in the environment.
Peshawar has reported 45 polio cases during the past five years whereas four cases had been reported during the previous year.
An explosive poliovirus outbreak in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, which left 65 children paralysed during the past year, is also sustained by Peshawar, as much of the population of the area moves through Peshawar. The city acts as an amplifier of the virus, the report added.
The security situation in Peshawar has affected the quality of anti-polio campaigns, resulting in inadequate coverage of children against the virus.
The WHO said the polio eradication efforts in Peshawar by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government should be improved.
The report said that during the past four years, samples of sewage from throughout the country had been periodically tested for presence of poliovirus.
During the period, 86 samples of sewage water were collected from different locations of Peshawar and 72 of them showed the presence of the highly contagious and paralytic wild poliovirus strain.
The WHO said a ‘ban’ on immunisation campaigns in North Waziristan Agency and continued attacks on vaccinators in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa posed major risks to attaining this year’s targets of the ‘Polio Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan 2013-18’.
The WHO Executive Board, which is meeting next week in Geneva, is expected to approve $28 million for supplementary immunisation activities in Pakistan.
A report prepared for the board says the cases of endemic poliomyelitis in the country have risen by 32 per cent since 2012.
Taking notice of the WHO statement, PTI chairman Imran Khan asked the chief minister and the health minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to commence immediately a crash course against not only polio but also for comprehensive childcare.
According to a press release, Mr Khan asked them to undertake, on an emergency basis, a programme to stamp out all the nine diseases that fall under the umbrella of the provincial expanded programme on immunisation, of which polio is one.
“We cannot continue to play with the lives of our future generations when prevention of childhood diseases is readily available. The neglect of previous governments towards immunisation of children, including against polio, is criminal and today this has endangered our children’s welfare and Pakistan’s international standing,” he said.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government must act on an emergency basis to immunise all children, including against polio, he said, adding that it must communicate to parents that immunisation could make the difference between a healthy child and a crippled one. “The battle must be fought on all fronts to make Pakistan free of all preventable diseases, including polio. We cannot afford failure,” he said.
Elias Durry, the WHO’s emergency coordinator for polio eradication in Pakistan, told AFP the virus was concentrated in a few areas that were too dangerous for health workers to visit.
For eradication to succeed, he said, security must be improved in these areas.
Provincial Health Minister Shaukat Ali Yousafzai said: “We are committed to eliminating the disease and doing our best despite continuous attacks on polio workers.”