ISLAMABAD: Despite expectations that the poliovirus would be eradicated in 2018, the emergence of two cases in Pakistan and nine cases in Afghanistan has panicked authorities in the health sectors as the two countries have been declared one block.

“Recently, an 18-month-old girl was diagnosed with poliovirus in Dukki district of Balochistan, taking the count for the first five months of the year in Pakistan to two. As poliovirus remains in a recessive mode during winters and becomes active with the increase in temperatures the coming days can be more worrying for us,” said an official of the Ministry of National Health Services, requesting anonymity.

“Though the health authorities in Pakistan and Afghanistan have stopped levelling allegations against each other, it is a fact that due to security issues polio campaigns cannot be held in many parts of Afghanistan. Even if Pakistan eradicates the virus it cannot be declared a polio-free country unless the virus is eradicated in Afghanistan too,” he said.

Two cases from Balochistan and seven from Afghanistan worry health authorities as the two countries have been declared one block

“We showed improvement during the last few years but it seems we may fail to give the final push to the virus as so far two cases have been reported from Balochistan. There is less than 30pc routine immunisation in Balochistan. In Punjab, the situation is a bit better but it is bad in interior Sindh and southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In Islamabad, routine immunisation is ignored during polio campaigns.”

The official said that in May experts from different countries were called for ‘focus group discussions’. The experts spent almost two weeks visiting different provinces but came up with findings that were already in the knowledge of everyone, he said.

At a function arranged for Minister for National Health Services Saira Afzal Tarar on the last day of her tenure on Thursday, government officials claimed that there was a huge improvement and the virus of the crippling disease would be eradicated this year.

Prime Minister’s Focal Person on Polio Eradication Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq said Pakistan’s historic progress towards polio eradication would not have been achieved without the dedicated leadership of Ms Tarar.

She said since 2014 there had been an overall 97pc reduction in polio cases in Pakistan: from 306 cases in 2014 to eight in 2017. This year two polio cases have been reported.

Earlier, National Emergency Operation Centre Coordinator Dr Rana Mohammad Safdar spoke on the current polio epidemiology and the plans to interrupt the virus.

“Maintaining highest quality supplementary immunisation activity campaigns in alignment with Afghanistan with focus on hotspots will do the job along with convergence of efforts for strengthening routine immunisation, water and sanitation as well as nutrition especially in areas of remaining polio concerns,” he said.

Speaking on the occasion, Ms Tarar said: “Polio eradication enjoyed broad political and popular support in our country and this commitment has made a difference when our people come together to work above political lines towards a national cause.”

Published in Dawn, June 1st, 2018