ISLAMABAD: As Pakistan strives to become polio-free, the region of southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa threatens to upend the progress, with this year’s 13th case reported on Friday.

An 18-month-old child was paralysed by wild poliovirus (WPV) in Lakki Marwat, the National Institute of Health confirmed.

The 12 other cases were also reported from southern KP, North Waziristan. With Pakistan nearly achieving the status of a polio-free country, health authorities have expressed concern over the high number of cases from the tribal districts.

“We have successfully managed to prevent the virus from spreading elsewhere despite the frequent movement of people between KP and other parts of the country. If we can contain and eliminate the virus from this area, we can win the fight against polio,” federal Health Secretary Dr Fakhre Alam Irfan told Dawn.

US reports first case in nearly a decade

In a statement, Minister for National Health Services Abdul Qadir Patel said the government decided to use injectable vaccines during vaccination drives in southern KP. “We have started providing injectable vaccines to interrupt the transmission of the virus due to higher acceptance of this form of immunisation, as well as offering hygiene products such as soap to prevent the spread of all kinds of germs,” he said.

National Emergency Operations Coordinator Dr Shahzad Baig told Dawn that the government was continuously reassessing its immunisation strategies to reach more children. “Vaccine acceptance has increased in KP since we initiated emergency measures for the highest-risk districts,” said Dr Baig.

The next polio campaign in southern KP will begin on August 15. Pakistan has seen a steady decline in the number of polio cases since reporting 147 cases in 2019. The number dropped to 84 next year and further to only one in 2021.

Polio case in US

Meanwhile, the United Stated reported its first-ever polio case in nearly a decade on Thursday when a person from New York’s Rockland County was diagnosed with the virus, CNN reported. The case was identified as a revertant polio Sabin type 2 virus, indicating that the person received oral polio vaccines before travelling to the country.

Since Pakistan is one of the two countries in the world where passengers receive oral polio vaccines before traveling, health authorities fear that the virus might have been transported by a person of Pakistani-origin.

The US health officials also fear that more cases might emerge as people who catch the virus can spread it for about two weeks. In this case, the individual was not expected to be contagious anymore as they have passed that window of time. However, according to the officials, other people might have got the virus before the case was diagnosed.

Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by poliovirus mainly affecting children under the age of five years. It enters the nervous system and cause paralysis, even death. While there is no cure for polio, vaccination is the most effective way to protect children from this crippling disease.

Published in Dawn, July 23rd, 2022

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