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LAHORE: A team of the World Health Organization (WHO) says that the immunity of the population against polio virus has increased considerably in Pakistan since 2016 while the challenges in reaching children remain.

Addressing a seminar on `Poliomyelitis - the endgame strategy,’ at the University of Health Sciences (UHS) here on Monday, WHO team leader for polio eradication in Punjab Dr Raul Bonifacio said in the last stage of eradication of the crippling disease, Pakistan made tremendous progress towards interruption and eradication of poliovirus transmission.

“The number of cases has declined from 306 in 2014 to 54 in 2015, 20 in 2016 and eight in 2017. In 2018, only one polio case has so far been reported from Duki, Balochistan,” he said.

Pakistan has been among the countries in the world with ongoing wild poliovirus transmission, alongside Afghanistan and Nigeria.

Dr Bonifacio said eradication efforts had begun to close the immunity gaps and the programme was on track to reaching the goal of interrupting the transmission of polio in Pakistan.

“The genetic picture for Pakistan today provided basis for optimism especially if the gains achieved so far are sustained and intensified in the remaining areas of residual wild poliovirus transmission.

“The virus is cornered in just three remaining sanctuaries – the Khyber-Peshawar corridor, Karachi and the Quetta block. However, the risks to Pakistan span beyond these areas and a determined focus on delivering high quality campaigns that ensure finding and vaccinating every missed child is critical to stop virus circulation,” said the WHO team leader.

WHO Surveillance Officer Dr Ujala Nayyar said that a vast majority of parents in Pakistan accepted the polio vaccine: very few refusing vaccination in the highest risk areas.

She said the programme had been using a combination of inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) and oral polio vaccine (OPV) to boost individual immunity of children aged 4-23 months. “Combining OPV and IPV provides stronger protection against polio. IPV strengthens immunity in the blood while OPV strengthens immunity in the gut,” said Dr Nayyar.

UHS Vice Chancellor Prof Dr Mahmood Shaukat called for bridging the gap in training facilities and procedures to improve clinical diagnosis of acute flaccid paralysis (AFP).

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2018