ISLAMABAD: As 12 cases of polio have been reported in Afghanistan so far this year, authorities here fear that the deadly virus may enter Pakistan from the neighbouring country.

The matter was brought under the notice of Minister for National Health Services (NHS) Aamir Mehmood Kiani at a briefing on Monday. National Coordinator for Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) Dr Rana Mohammad Safdar told Dawn that five polio cases were reported in the Nangarhar and Kunar provinces of Afghanistan that are located just across the tribal districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). He said the remaining seven cases were reported across the Quetta block in the Helmand and Kandahar provinces.

Three cases have been reported in different parts of Balochistan this year.

The briefing was held at the EOC located on the premises of the National Institute of Health (NIH).

Health minister requested to inform international community about need polio campaigns in neighbouring country, official says

“The minister was well aware of the movement of population from Afghanistan to Pakistan and said strict measures should be taken to check the transmission of the virus to Pakistan. He was informed that massive anti-polio campaigns were held along the border to protect children against the virus.”

Dr Safdar said the minister was requested to play his role to convey the message to the international community that polio campaigns should be held in Afghanistan as currently no such drives were held there due to security issues.

“The issue of routine immunisation was also taken up with the minister as currently there is only 35 to 40pc coverage in Balochistan and around 50pc in KP and Sindh. The coverage in Punjab is over 80pc which takes the overall national coverage to 70pc,” he said.

In reply to a question, Dr Safdar said the minister directed the officials concerned to eradicate the poliovirus and said Prime Minister Imran Khan would inaugurate the upcoming nationwide polio campaign starting from September 24.

The briefing was also informed that though oral polio vaccine (OPV) was administered during the campaigns a number of pockets had been identified where injectable polio vaccine (IPV) would be used to enhance the immune system of children, he said.

OPV is given to stop the transfer of virus from one child to another but in case of a weak immune system IPV is used to save the child from the disease.

According to a statement issued by the health ministry, the minister affirmed the government’s full support for the polio eradication programme.

“Pakistan has made remarkable progress in protecting every child from this devastating yet vaccine preventable disease. The nation has reduced the number of polio cases from almost 20,000 every year in the early 1990s to only eight last year. Since 2014, new polio cases have dropped by an amazing 99pc -- from 306 in 2014 to three this year. We must sustain these gains and continue to ensure every child is reached in every vaccination campaign,” said the minister.

“The progress is a direct result of the collective efforts of our brave frontline workers backed by law enforcement agencies and unprecedented government commitment at all levels,” he added.

The minister advised the programme to constantly educate the citizens on the need to vaccinate all under-five children in every campaign.

Published in Dawn, August 28th, 2018