WE were almost there. For over a whole year, 15 months to be exact, Pakistan remained polio-free. However, the surfacing of a wild poliovirus case in Bannu division has thrown a huge spanner in the works of national polio eradication efforts.
According to details, the National Institute of Health confirmed the presence of type-1 wild poliovirus in a 15-month-old boy who was paralysed. Meanwhile, earlier in the month, wild poliovirus was also detected in environmental samples from Bannu.
Before this, the only polio case had surfaced in Balochistan’s Qilla Abdullah district in January last year. Since then and now, there had been zero cases of wild poliovirus whose presence in the environmental samples collected was also said to have been greatly reduced.
Interestingly, earlier in the year, WHO had advised the Pakistani health authorities to exercise caution and to not resort to complacency in their vaccination drives. According to the WHO, not detecting a single case of polio in an entire year did not necessarily mean that the virus had been eliminated in the country. The virus usually resurfaces when another high-transmission season begins.
It is understandable if polio officials and health workers who have worked hard and, along with the policemen protecting them, risked their lives to rid the country of this crippling disease should feel disheartened.
However, as WHO advised Pakistan’s polio authorities, now is the time to “pull out all the stops to intensify our surveillance to actively search for the virus”. This can either be done by attacking the remaining chains of local transmission, as suggested by the WHO, or actively searching for what Unicef says is a large number of missing children who were not being covered by the immunisation drives.
A polio-free status is still eluding us but recent experience has shown that it is not impossible to achieve. The polio authorities, health workers and also the public should rally for one final push to exterminate the menace once and for all.
Published in Dawn, April 25th, 2022