ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has reported its first polio case of 2023 after a three-year-old boy in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Bannu district became the latest victim of the crippling disease, the health ministry confirmed on Friday.

The case has been reported at a time when delegations of the French Agency for Development (FAD) and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) are in the country to analyse efforts to eradicate the disease.

According to a statement issued by the health ministry on Friday, the FAD and BMGF delegations met the federal health minister to discuss avenues for cooperation in social protection and health, with a focus on polio eradication.

The head of the National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) for Polio, Dr Shahzad Baig, said an investigation is ongoing to identify whether the child received the vaccination or the parents refused vaccination.

Three-year-old in Bannu becomes victim of crippling disease

“However, it is clear that the child was not fully protected and that is why attacked by the virus,” Dr Baig said while talking to Dawn.

He said this was the first case of the current year which has been reported after a gap of five months. Health authorities have issued an alert on the back of the expected movement from tribal districts to urban areas in Ramazan and Eid. The authorities are now planning a vaccination drive in tribal districts from April 10 as currently, security personnel are engaged in the digital census.

The NEOC head said there were seven districts in southern KP, including Dera Ismail Khan, Lakki Marwat, Tank, Bannu, South Waziristan and North Waziristan where the virus is prevalent. “[These areas] need to be targeted vigorously in the vaccination campaign.”

The region was the epicentre of the virus in 2022 with all 20 cases being reported from districts in southern KP. Of them, 17 were from North Waziristan, two from Lakki Marwat and one from South Waziristan.

While a polio campaign was carried out in Sindh, Punjab and Islamabad in March, the drive couldn’t be started in KP and Balochistan as security staff was occupied with census duties.

Support of international community

The BMGF is one of the biggest contributors supporting Pakis­tan’s efforts to end the virus. The visits are aimed at identifying Pakistan’s needs and understanding areas for support in light of the 2022 floods, which left more than 33 million people in need of aid.

During the meeting on polio eradication, Minister Abdul Qadir Patel said the health service infrastructure was severely damaged in many districts as a result of floods.

“Thousands of people lost their homes and livelihoods, placing a severe strain on social protection mechanisms. We are still recovering, but despite these toughest of times, Pakistan has not diluted its focus from polio eradication,” the health ministry’s statement said, quoting Mr Patel.

The Gates Foundation delegation was led by Jay Wenger, the global head for polio eradication, while the FAD delegation was headed by Agnès Soucat, the director of health and social protection.

The delegations appreciated the progress made by Pakistan in 2022 and hoped that the virus, restricted to seven districts, will soon be eradicated.

“Thanks to the generous support of the international community, Pakistan has been aggressively fighting the poliovirus,” the health minister said,

The delegation admired the “political commitment at all levels” to eradicate the virus, according to the statement.

Earlier this year in January, environmental samples from Lahore — the second biggest city after Karachi — tested positive for the polio virus, prompting the authorities to start a vaccination campaign in 26 union councils of the city.

Published in Dawn, March 18th, 2023

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