ISLAMABAD: The intense transmission of polio virus, due to a break in the vaccination campaign in April last year, has become a huge setback for the health authorities as the tally for the year 2019 has reached 123.
“While we are in the year 2020, for about another one month more cases can be added to the total number of cases for 2019 as the date of collection of a sample is considered for placing a case in a certain year, rather than the date of confirmation of the case,” an official of the National Institute of Health (NIH) said.
He said that the incubation period of the polio virus was almost three weeks; so cases were confirmed almost three weeks after the date of getting the samples.
“It is quite possible that in the next few weeks, we may confirm cases for the years 2019 and 2020 simultaneously,” he said.
Among the new cases, the official said, five cases were reported from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and one from Sindh.
“As for as the cases of KP are concerned, a five-month-old boy and his 30-month-old sister have been paralysed by the attack of the crippling disease’s virus. They are residents of Tank tehsil’s Tatta union council (UC). Both were cases of refusals,” he said.
“Another case from Bannu is that of a 26-month-old boy who is resident of Bannu tehsil’s Nar Sukar Allah UC. A 24-month-old girl from Malana UC, Parova tehsil, Dera Ismail Khan district, has also been infected with polio. The fifth case from the province is from Mohmand district’s Baizai tehsil, Warsak UC where a six-month old child has fallen prey to the virus,” the official said.
“The case from Sindh is of a five-month-old girl who is a resident of Patt UC of Dadu tehsil and district,” the official said.
During the year 2019 as many as 123 polio cases were reported as compared to 12 in 2018 and only eight in 2017.
The provincial data for year 2019 shows that 88 cases have been reported from KP, 20 from Sindh, nine from Balochistan and six from Punjab.
The National Coordinator of the National Emergency Operation Center (EOC) for Polio, Dr Rana Safdar, while talking to Dawn, said that the virus had been rampant throughout 2019 and besides paralysing children, it had been found in 50 per cent of the sewage samples collected from across Pakistan.
“This poses a real risk and it is our duty to protect children from lifelong disability through routine immunisation as well as the door to door campaigns. We have just started our battle with the successful nationwide last December’s campaign, first since January that year, as the April attempt was affected by unfortunate Peshawar debacle in which a drama was staged showing children developing reaction to the vaccine,” the NIH official said.
Two follow-up national campaigns are planned in February and April. Moreover a special response round will start in high risk districts from Jan 13. Vaccination of all targeted children in these rounds along with efforts for improving routine immunisation coverage can turn the tide by mid 2020,” he said.
“The National EOC urges all parents to proactively vaccinate their children as well as those around them to rapidly plug the immunity gap. Vaccination against all preventable diseases including polio is available free of charge in government-run health facilities across Pakistan,” Dr Safdar said.
Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus mainly affecting children under the age of five. It invades the nervous system, and can cause paralysis or even death.
While there is no cure for polio, vaccination is the most effective way to protect children from this crippling disease.
Each time a child is vaccinated, their protection against the virus is increased. Repeated immunisations have protected millions of children from polio, allowing almost all countries in the world to become polio-free.
There are only two countries in the world, Pakistan and Afghanistan, where polio cases are being reported. Pakistan remains under a polio-linked travel restriction imposed by the World Health Organisation due to which, since 2014, every Pakistani travelling abroad has to carry a polio vaccination certificate.
Published in Dawn, January 3rd, 2020