KARACHI: A four-month old baby suffering from the endemic polio virus has died in Pakistan, doctors and health officials said Wednesday.
The death underscores the problems in eradicating polio in Pakistan, one of only three countries in the world where the highly infectious crippling disease remains endemic.
The death of Amna, a four-month old infant, took place in the low-income locality of Baldia Town in Karachi, the country’s largest city and commercial hub.
Deaths from the disease are rare. One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis. Among those paralysed, five per cent to ten per cent die when their breathing muscles become immobilised.
Doctors were unable to verify whether the child died as a result of the disease or due to complications arising from it. However, Elias Durry, the chief of the WHO's Polio Eradication Pakistan Program, says that polio was “most probably the cause of death.”
Durry said that it was difficult to verify the cause of death as doctors were unable to test a required second sample from the baby.
According to Durry, at least two children in Pakistan have died from the disease since 2011.
Dr Khalid Memon, a private practitioner in Mirpurkhas, said the infant was first brought to his clinic where he witnessed the baby was already suffering from paralysis, a common symptom of polio.
We ran a test and verified the child was suffering from polio, he said. Memon said the infant was referred to a hospital in Karachi but died before a second test could be carried out.
According to Dr Memon, Amna’s mother told him that the family had not allowed their children to be vaccinated by polio workers as they consider the polio vaccinations to be “un-Islamic”.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Pakistan recorded 73 cases of polio this year compared to 58 for all of 2012. This is the highest number of cases as compared to the two other countries with the disease – Nigeria with 50 and Afghanistan with only one in 2013.
In Karachi alone, five cases of the disease have been reported so far this year.
Speaking to Dawn.com on Wednesday, WHO officials confirmed the fifth case in Karachi — an eight month old male child from the city’s Bin Qasim town area.
The officials said all five families had refused to allow their children to be vaccinated by polio workers.
The WHO said it has decided to step up its polio immunisation campaign in Mirpurkhas and Baldia Town area of Karachi on an emergency basis to stop the disease from spreading to other children in the area.