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Polio viruses detected during sewage sampling in Pindi

Updated September 06, 2013

ISLAMABAD, Sept 5: Two polio viruses were found during an environmental sewage sampling carried out by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in the Rawalpindi city.

A source in the WHO told Dawn: “The polio viruses were found in Fauji Colony and Safdarabad in Rawalpindi. The issue was raised during a meeting at the Ministry of National Health Services and Regulations held to review the overall polio situation in the country on August 28.”

Fauji Colony is located along I.J. Principal Road in Rawalpindi while Safdarabad, inhabited by Pashtun migrants, is in Pirwadhai.

It is pertinent to mention that technical experts of the WHO collected the sewage samples randomly from different areas of the city and later get them tested for polio virus symptoms from the National Institute of Health (NIH).

The WHO official added that the environmental sewage sampling was done after an average 25 days in different parts of the twin cities.

Dr Alias Durray, the WHO polio chief in Pakistan, raised these concerns with the government during the August 28 meeting, said the source.

The source added that samples were collected from UC-3, UC-4, UC-5, UC-6 and UC-7 of Safdarabad and Fauji Colony on August 15.

When contacted, Dr Alias Durray told Dawn: “It is a great concern for us that the virus is mainly travelling from the north of the country towards the urban, populated areas of Punjab.” He said the virus had travelled from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata and reached Rawalpindi city.

“Pakistan may lose the war against polio since the positive testing of virus in areas like Rawalpindi signifies that the virus is not limited to any specific area but is spreading.”

Dr Durray added that polio viruses were also found during the August 15 sewage sampling in Peshawar and Gulshanabad, Karachi.

A Rawalpindi district government official added that the polio virus was not found in the city since 2010.

He said it was in October 2012 when the city was tested positive for the environmental sewage sampling of polio virus.

A health expert said viruses were found in these areas because of massive migration of people from areas like Waziristan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

“Since there is no anti-polio campaign for the last over one-and-a-half-years in Waziristan, the movement of people led to positive testing of polio virus in areas like Rawalpindi’s densely Pashtun-populated localities.”

There has been no positive polio case registered in Rawalpindi for the last three years, added the official.

Explaining the transfer of polio virus from one location to another, he said: ““Elderly people can also transmit the polio virus as it remains in the intestinal track of humans for many days regardless of their age.”

The expert added that polio virus entered the body through consumption of water or food contaminated with waste material (stool) of an infected person. He remarked that the polio virus multiplied in the human intestine, adding an infected person can pass on the virus to others.

Meanwhile, documents showed that the WHO had warned the government during the August 28 meeting that slackness on its part would damage the polio campaigns.

According to the documents, the WHO official said: “The quality of campaigns has been compromised and mobile population is acting as a constant poliovirus carrier. All gains can be reversed if proper measures are not taken on time.”

It was decided that the district coordination officers would be held responsible in case of detection of any polio case in their respective districts.

Despite repeated attempts, the minister for national health regulations and services was not available to clarify the government’s position on the recovery of the polio viruses.