ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and Afghanistan have reported the first cases of polio for the year 2016.

In Pakistan, the case has been confirmed by Polio Virology Laboratory at the National Institute of Health.

An official of the Ministry of National Health Services, who is not authorised to speak on record, said the sample collected from 34-month-old Ijaz Khan in January confirmed that the child had the onset of polio.

He is a resident of Gadap Town in Karachi and belongs to a Pakhtun family of Mohmand tribe. He had received two doses during routine immunisation and seven during different polio campaigns.

“Malnutrition was the major reason of the disease because immunity level of the child was very low,” the official said.

He said that 54 cases of polio had been reported last year. “We are still hopeful that polio will be completely eradicated from the country this year because we are not going to miss any child during polio campaigns.”

He said the affected child in Afghanistan was 60 months old. He had received only two polio vaccines.

“The thing which worrying us is that the child belongs to Kandahar which is near Balochistan. Moreover, according to reports at least 80,000 children in Afghanistan were missed during last few campaigns,” he said.

Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only countries in the world which have been transferring the polio virus to each other. The main reason is that the two countries share a 2,500km long border.

Children are vaccinated at legal entry points of the border but since Pakistan is hosting 1.6 million Afghan refugees, a large number of people cross the border illegally from different routes and it is not possible to vaccinate them at the border.

Last month, Dr Jean Marc Olive, Chairman of Technical Advisory Group (TAG), which advises on polio eradication programme, stressed that Pakistan and Afghanistan had to make joint efforts to eradicate the virus. He said Pakistan would not be able to eradicate polio on its own.

Talking to Dawn, head of the National Emergency Operation Centre Dr Rana Safdar said that although children were being vaccinated in Pakistan, they were still vulnerable to the disease because of low immunity level and malnutrition.

“Unfortunately, we cannot do much to address the issue of malnutrition in children. However, according to directions of TAG, we have been focusing on permanent transit points at the border with Afghanistan,” he said.

“Currently, we have over 2,500 transit points all over the country, but we will take further steps to ensure that no child enters Pakistan without immunisation because that is how the virus of polio can be eradicated in 2016,” he said.

Published in Dawn, February 6th, 2016