Twin cities’ samples test negative for poliovirus in high transmission season

Updated July 21, 2019

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Environmental samples from Rawalpindi and Islamabad have tested negative for the poliovirus, even though the virus becomes more active in high transmission season. Environmental samples from Rawalpindi and Islamabad have tested negative for the poliovirus, even though the virus becomes more active in high transmission season.  — AP/File
Environmental samples from Rawalpindi and Islamabad have tested negative for the poliovirus, even though the virus becomes more active in high transmission season. Environmental samples from Rawalpindi and Islamabad have tested negative for the poliovirus, even though the virus becomes more active in high transmission season. — AP/File

ISLAMABAD: Environmental samples from Rawalpindi and Islamabad have tested negative for the poliovirus, even though the virus becomes more active in high transmission season.

The Prime Minister’s Focal Person on Polio Babar Bin Atta said this is the first time that the vaccine was found in sewage from Rawalpindi, but the poliovirus was not.

“It shows that more than 95pc of children are being vaccinated in Rawalpindi. As Rawalpindi has been cleaned, environmental samples from Islamabad have also come back clean,” he told Dawn.

Mr Atta said Rawalpindi Deputy Commissioner Chaudhry Mohammad Ali Randhawa led polio vaccination teams himself, which was why improvement was seen in the city.

For the first time, Rawalpindi sewage has tested positive for the polio vaccine but not the virus, focal person on polio says

He added that the poliovirus was eradicated from Islamabad’s environmental samples after the operation in the I-11 katchi abadi in 2015, but then re-emerged in the capital. Islamabad’s samples are once again negative because of effective campaigns in Rawalpindi, he said.

A sample is deemed negative if the poliovirus is found in sewage. Sewage samples are the basic parameter to determine if polio vaccination campaigns have been successful; a polio case can be reported in any city because of the frequent movement of people from one city to another, but if the virus is found in sewage it means the vaccination campaign did not meet its target.

The presence of polio in sewage also shows that the immunity of local children has fallen and they are at risk.

Mr Atta said it was even more positive that the twin cities’ samples tested negative during the high transmission season.

The poliovirus is less active in the low transmission season from September to May because of lower temperatures. It becomes more active from June to August, which is when more children can be affected.

“It shows that when one city is cleaned of the virus, the adjacent city is also cleaned. We are hoping there will be very positive results across the country by June 2020,” he said.

When asked about the recent vaccination campaign in 11 districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and the increasing number of polio cases in the province, Mr Atta said that 633,534 out of 661,110 children were vaccinated – 95.8pc.

The campaign began on July 15 and ended on July 19, including two catch-up days.

“It is a very good development for us,” Mr Atta said. He added that past campaigns had claimed that nearly 100pc of children were vaccinated “however, we have observed that there were 10pc refusals in Swabi and Swat each, 5.7pc in Torghar, 13pc in Buner and 10.9pc in Haripur district.”

He said the polio programme has data on the refusals, and these children will be targeted during the next vaccination drive.

He added that Bannu’s sewage did not test positive for the poliovirus, but the vaccine was not present either “which shows there is need to focus more.”

A total of 45 polio cases have been confirmed this year across the country, compared to 12 in 2018 and eight in 2017. Of these, 35 were reported from KP and its tribal districts, five from Punjab, three from Sindh and two from Balochistan.

Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by the poliovirus that affects mainly children below the age of five. It invades the nervous system, and can cause paralysis or even death. Although there is no cure for polio, vaccination is the most effective way of protecting children from the disease.

Each time a child under five is vaccinated, their protection against the virus increases. Repeated immunisations have protected millions of children from polio, allowing almost all countries in the world to become polio-free.

Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2019