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ISLAMABAD: Poliovirus that originated in the Northern Corridor in Afghanistan – Kandahar and Helmand – has been detected in various Pakistani cities including Rawalpindi.

Emergency Operations Centre for Polio Eradication National Coordinator Rana Mohammad Safdar said the virus has been detected in Peshawar and other cities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as well.

“This shows that there is a threat because of the virus, which is travelling with people from Afghanistan to Pakistan, so we need to ensure our children’s immunity level is high to keep them safe from the virus,” he added.

A total of 14 cases have been reported near the border in Afghanistan, as polio vaccination campaigns cannot be held in some provinces for security reasons.

The area where the poliovirus originated can be detected through DNA testing. In 2013, the Syrian government had alleged that poliovirus that originated in the then Federally Administered Tribal Areas had travelled to Syria because of Pakistanis who were fighting alongside rebels.

First nationwide vaccination campaign of 2018-19 starts tomorrow

“Three cases have been reported from Balochistan, but all three were reported from one district and two adjacent union councils. Such cases are considered a single case, as the same virus attacks the children.

“The fourth poliovirus case was detected in Charsadda in an 18-month-old child. Although the child was affected by polio, he was not paralysed because he not only received all the doses in the routine immunisation but also in door-to-door campaigns,” he said.

Children have to be vaccinated as long as the virus exists to keep their immunity levels high, Dr Safdar added.

Pakistan has started its final push towards the interruption of the poliovirus with the first nationwide door-to-door vaccination campaign of the 2018-19 low transmission season tomorrow (Monday), in all districts other than Sheikhupura and Orakzai.

The vaccinations in those two areas will start a day later, as an urs will be held in Sheikhupura and a procession is scheduled in Orakzai for Sept 24, Dr Safdar said.

“The campaign is fully synchronised with Afghanistan to ensure effective vaccination of mobile children as well,” he added.

The vaccination programme will target 38.6 million children under the age of five, including approximately 19.2m in Punjab, 8.9m in Sindh, 6.8m in KP (including the tribal districts), 2.5m in Balochistan, 700,000 in Azad Kashmir, 237,000 in Gilgit-Baltistan and 330,000 in Islamabad.

It will be spread over three days, plus one or two days for catch-up work, and five days plus two catch-up days in core reservoir areas.

“A Vitamin A supplement will also be administered to around 35m children aged between six and 59 months during this campaign along with the OPV, aimed at boosting immunity against all infection diseases including measles,” Dr Safdar said.

According to a statement, a total of 260,000 personnel will participate in the campaign across the country. This includes 26,169 area in-charges, 7,958 union council medical officers and 190,950 mobile, 10,271 fixed and 11,998 transit team members.

The National Emergency Operations Centre has also deployed 40 experts to facilitate preparedness by local teams in priority areas.

Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2018