ISLAMABAD: Six more polio cases, two each from Sindh, Khyber Pakhtun­khwa and Punjab, have been confirmed, bringing the tally for the year 2019 to 134.

Though the polio vaccine is administered to children under the age of five years, one of the children in Sindh, who has been infected with the poliovirus, is 12 years old. Moreover, the results show that not a single child had completed the routine immunisation course.

“Though we are in the year 2020, for almost two weeks 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 at the National Institute of Health said.

He added that the incubation period of the poliovirus was almost three weeks and, therefore, the cases were confirmed almost three weeks after the date of getting samples. “It is quite possible that in the next two weeks, we may get cases for 2019 and 2020 simultaneously.”

The official said the two new polio cases in Sindh were reported from Kambar and Jamshoro districts — a 36-month-old boy, resident of Lalu Raunk Union Council (UC) in tehsil Warah; and a 12-year-old boy, resident of Sehwan-2 UC in tehsil Sehwan.

In KP, a 24-month-old boy from Lachra UC in Dera Ismail Khan district, and a nine-month-old girl from Baist Khel UC in tehsil Serai Naurang of Lakki Marwat district have been affected the crippling disease, he said.

“Both cases in Punjab have been reported from D.G. Khan. A six-month-old girl, resident of Aali Wala UC in tehsil D.G. Khan, and a 12-month-old girl, resident of Sakhi Sarwar UC in tehsil D.G. Khan, have been infected with the virus,” the official said.

Coordinator for the National Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) for Polio Dr Rana Safdar, while talking to Dawn, said the recent polio cases showed that the routine immunisation coverage remained a significant challenge. The long gap in door-to-door campaigns during 2019 had created a large pool of vulnerable children, he added.

“We have started our fight back through the successful December campaign. Areas with recent detections are further being targeted in special response round starting from Jan 13. We will follow it up with two nationwide campaigns in February and April with another targeted case response in between. Efforts from December-April will bridge the immunity gap that will lead to a significant decrease in intensity of virus transmission in the second half of 2020,” he claimed.

In reply to a question about the case of 12-year-old child, Dr Safdar said that an investigation was in progress, but added that usually children of more than five years of age with low immunity level could be attacked by the poliovirus.

“However, in such cases children recover soon and within a few months they again start walking just like normal children. However, it shows intensity of transmission of virus and the current risk to our children is very real. The National EOC urges parents to ensure immunisation of their children both in routine as well as special campaigns planned by the programme over the next few months,” he said.

According to website of the polio programme, as many as 134 polio cases have been reported in 2019, compared to 12 cases in 2018 and only eight in 2017.

The provincial data for 2019 shows that 91 polio cases have been reported from KP, 24 from Sindh, 11 from Balochistan and eight from Punjab.

Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by poliovirus 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 under the age of five is vaccinated, his/her 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. Moreover, 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 person travelling abroad has to carry a polio vaccination certificate.

Published in Dawn, January 10th, 2020