ISLAMABAD: Another child was found infected with poliovirus in North Waziristan, taking the tally of patients reported in the tribal district to seven in just over a month.

All cases have been rep­orted from this southern district of Khyber Pakh­tun­khwa and more are exp­ec­ted from the same area due to high refusal rate and inst­ances of finger-marking without vaccination during campaigns.

With the emergence of the latest case, the global count of wild polio in 2022 has reached eight, with only one case being reported from Afghanistan in January. This means that 87pc of the global cases have been reported from Pakistan.

The latest victim is a seven-month-old girl who has been paralysed by wild polio.

“The outbreak in North Waziristan appears to be following the same pattern as was witnessed in 2014 and 2019 when there was a surge in cases in the same area. We are working tirelessly to ensure that we break this pattern,” Health Minister Abdul Qadir Patel told Dawn.

The southern districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – North and South Waziristan, D.I. Khan, Bannu, Tank and Lakki Marwat – are at highest risk of wild poliovirus.

Bannu also reported two positive environmental samples between April and May this year, confirming that the ongoing wild poliovirus transmission is not limited to North Waziristan.

“These cases are surfacing from the same part of the country but parents and caregivers must remain extremely vigilant and give their children repeated doses of the polio vaccine,” the minister said.

According to preliminary investigations, the child’s lower limbs and left arm are paralysed.

“We are administering polio vaccine to children up to the age of 10 at all entry and exit points of southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to stop the spread of the virus,” National Emergency Operations Coordinator Dr Shahzad Baig said.

Meanwhile, according to a statement, the second National Immunisation Days campaign of this year reached over 43 million children under the age of five.

The campaign was launched on May 23 across Pakistan and it was synchronised with the drive in Afghanistan so that children on both sides of the border received vaccines at the same time.

As many as 340,000 trained and dedicated polio workers were engaged in the drive to inoculate children at their doorsteps. A supplementary dose of Vitamin A was also given to eligible children.

Coordinator of the National Emergency Operations Centre, Polio Eradication Initiative, Dr Shahzad Baig expressed satisfaction over the successful conclusion of the immunisation campaign.

“Pakistan has made enormous progress over the last 18 months, but we need to drive even harder to achieve the results we want. We need to ensure all eligible children are vaccinated during each campaign to build their immunity against polio,” Dr Baig said.

He went on to say that the programme had intensified its efforts to address challenges related to vaccine hesitancy, community engagement and service delivery to counter the longstanding issues following the emergence of new polio cases in south Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by poliovirus, mainly affecting children under the age of five years.

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 the crippling disease.

Each time a child under the age of five is vaccinated, their resistance against the virus increases.

Repeated immunisations have protected millions of children from polio, allowing almost all countries in the world to become polio-free, including the two endemic countries of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Published in Dawn, June 2nd, 2022

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