Polio concerns

Published June 25, 2022

THE fact that vaccine-derived poliovirus has been detected in London’s sewage samples for the first time in 40 years should send alarm bells ringing locally, especially after British health authorities have said the virus may have been ‘imported’. Pakistan may be one of the sources of the virus found in the UK, though it should be added that vaccine-derived polio is found in 22 countries, and results of genome sequencing will better explain the origins of the virus. Moreover, all the cases reported in Pakistan this year have been of wild poliovirus, not the vaccine-derived variant. That said, Pakistan’s health authorities need to be on their toes, for if the London samples are found to be linked to this country, the consequences, particularly for Pakistanis wanting to travel abroad, as well as the country’s reputation, could be grim. It is indeed unfortunate that while nearly all countries of the world have managed to eradicate polio, Pakistan and Afghanistan remain the ‘final frontiers’ where this crippling ailment has not been eliminated.

The results of Pakistan’s anti-polio efforts over the past few years have been mixed, with the country coming close to eradication, only to find an explosion of cases soon after. For example, 10 cases have been reported in the country so far this year, while the tally in 2020 crossed 200. This pattern tends to repeat itself; for example, in 2017 only eight cases were reported, but the total crossed 150 cases just two years later. Most of the cases reported this year are limited to the North Waziristan tribal district. Therefore, along with continuing nationwide anti-polio drives, special attention must be given to the KP district in order to eliminate polio. The services of ulema and tribal elders need to be utilised to bring down cases of refusal and encourage people to get their children vaccinated, while there can be no room for fake finger markings. Eliminating polio from Pakistan is possible, if the state decides to pursue this worthy goal with determination and focus.

Published in Dawn, June 25th, 2022

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