LAHORE: The initiative for eradication of polio from the country seems to have hit a snag in Punjab as the crippling disease is on the brink of an outbreak apparently due to the apathy of the government, risking the health and lives of millions of vulnerable children across the province.
An official report has exposed the efforts of the health authorities and the programme managers after Punjab reported 63 per cent positive rate of the environmental samples collected from across the province. This is said to be the highest percentage of environmental surveillance of wild poliovirus reported in Punjab so far since the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf came to power.
According to public health experts, a sample is deemed positive if poliovirus is found in sewage, which is the basic parameter to determine if anti-polio campaigns have been successful. And in this case, it seems reporting of 63pc positive environmental samples means the anti-polio programme is failing.
Official report says ratio was 38pc last year
Meanwhile, the official report seems like a charge sheet against the Punjab government as well as the health authorities and programme managers, as last year this percentage was 38pc, which was also considered alarming at that time.
The figure increased to 63pc during the first eight months of the current year, raising eyebrows of the global health partners struggling to eradicate the virus from Pakistan, which is among the few countries still reporting polio cases.
The provincial capital Lahore that houses offices of all top government functionaries, including the chief minister, governor, chief secretary, health secretary, health director general and even the programme managers, has reported 100pc positive environmental samples.
According to the report, the district health authorities had collected 40 samples from sewage across the city since January this year. The test reports later confirmed all the samples tested positive for poliovirus, according to official data.
Dera Ghazi Khan, the hometown of Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, is the second district after Lahore reporting the most positive samples with 88pc, followed by Sheikhupura with 63pc, Faisalabad 47pc, Gujranwala and Bahawalpur 43pc each, Multan 42pc, Rajanpur 33pc, and Sialkot and Sargodha 25pc each.
The health experts said that the presence of poliovirus in 12 high risk districts of the province in such an alarming ratio means the same may fast spread to the remaining cities.
According to the official report, the district health authorities had collected 273 samples from these 12 districts in 2019. Out of the 75 sewage samples collected from Lahore last year, 63 had tested positive for poliovirus – or 84pc; the percentage in Dera Ghazi Khan was 25pc.
Similarly, the ratio of environmental samples testing positive in other districts also witnessed a visible increase. It was 40pc in Sheikhupura, 14pc in Multan, 17pc in Bahawalpur and Rajanpur each and nothing was reported positive in Sargodha.
All the environmental samples collected from across Gujranwala had tested negative last year, but in the first eight months of this year the city reported 43pc positive samples, according to the report.
Published in Dawn, September 20th, 2020