ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s celebratory mood on achieving the milestone of remaining polio free for over a year turned to disappointment after a new case of the crippling disease surfaced in North Waziristan on Friday.

The country had completed one year without detection of a polio case on January 27, with the only patient found in Balochistan’s Qila Abdullah district in 2021. All other federating and administrative units remained polio free last year.

Following the detection of the wild poliovirus case, the national and provincial polio emergency operation centres mobilised their teams to conduct a full investigation while emergency immunisation campaigns were already under way to prevent further spread of the virus.

It was the third wild polio case to have been recorded globally in 2022. The first two cases were reported from Afghanistan and Malawi.

Boy found paralysed by wild poliovirus in North Waziristan

According to data, a 15-month-old boy was found paralysed by the wild poliovirus — the first such case over the last 15 months.

An official of the National Institute of Health (NIH), who did not want to be named, said type-I wild poliovirus (WPV1) was confirmed in a child from North Waziristan on April 22 (Friday) by the Pakistan National Polio Laboratory at the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Islamabad. The laboratory also confirmed detection of a positive environmental sample collected on April 5 from Bannu district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Both these viruses are closely related to each other.

In February this year, a case of poliovirus was reported in the African nation of Malawi, but Pakistan had to face criticism as it was termed ‘the Pakistani variant of poliovirus’.

However health authorities had insisted that the strain had not been detected in Pakistan since 2019. It could not be confirmed when and how the virus travelled from Pakistan to Malawi where a three-year-old girl was reported to have contracted it.

On the other hand, Minister for National Health Services (NHS) Abdul Qadir Patel called a meeting and directed the polio team to double its efforts to eradicate the virus from the country.

“Pakistan has surmounted the most daunting of challenges and we are now well poised to stop the transmission of the poliovirus,” the minister said while addressing the meeting, which was also attended by NHS Secretary Aamir Ashraf, Director General Health Dr Rana Safdar, Polio Programme Coordinator Dr Shahzad Baig and heads of international partner agencies. “Even a single case of polio should be taken seriously and every effort made to ensure complete eradication of the crippling disease from the country,” the minister said.

No case of wild poliovirus was recorded in the province last year.

Published in Dawn, April 23rd, 2022

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