ISLAMABAD: While the Pakis­tan Polio Laboratory at the National Institute of Health confirmed the detection of wild poliovirus in an environmental sample from district South Waziristan of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Islamic Devel­opment Bank approved a financing contribution of $100 million, inclusive of a $35 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to the fourth phase of polio eradication project in Pakistan.

According to the Pakistan Polio Lab, the wild poliovirus Type-1, which was isolated from a sewage sample collected from Qureshi Mohalla in the district’s Wacha Khaura union council, was genetically linked to poliovirus found in sewage sample collected from the same district in September 2022.

Since three of the six positive samples detected in Pakistan this year belong to Afghanistan, officials believe there are 75pc chances of its spread from the neighbouring country where 22 environmental samples have been found positive, though both countries have reported one case each.

Talking to Dawn, National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) for Polio Eradication Coordinator Dr Shahzad Baig said: “As per genome sequencing three of six samples reported from Pakistan belonged to Afghan origin.” He believed there were only 25pc chances of local spread of virus in Pakistan, as there were 75pc chances the virus would spread from Afghanistan.

Islamic Development Bank approves $100m for polio eradication from Pakistan; immunisation drive in over 70 districts to begin tomorrow

Just a few days back, a four-year-old child has been infected with polio virus in Afghanistan due to which both countries have reported one each case of polio virus, he said.

Replying to a question, Mr Baig said the polio campaign was going to start in over 70 districts, except Quetta where it would be held after a few weeks, as currently security forces were busy in providing security for national games.

In a statement, federal Health Minister Abdul Qadir Patel said the detection of poliovirus in the environment was an indication that Pakistan’s polio surveillance system was working efficiently to locate virus circulation and take steps to prevent any further transmission. “Until we eradicate polio in Pakistan, the virus will continue to be a threat to children here and everywhere. Parents and caregivers, it is imperative that you understand the risk to your children and make sure that they receive polio drops in every campaign. This is the only way to ensure lifelong immunity for them,” he said.

He said polio drive was beginning in over 70 districts on May 15 and in southern KP on May 29, which was the perfect opportunity for parents to get their children vaccinated on their doorstep.

Dr Baig said that in the last stages of eradication, the virus could find refuge and thrive in under-immunised communities, which was why the seven endemic districts of southern KP were of high concern for the polio programme.

“Through intensive efforts after last year’s outbreak in southern KP, we have succeeded in containing the virus to this region. Here, the programme is maintaining a sharp focus on repeated quality campaigns, increased polio surveillance, increasing vaccine acceptance and improving overall routine immunisation rates,” he said.

Every month, the polio programme tests for poliovirus at 114 fixed environmental sites in Pakistan. To further enhance surveillance in high-risk areas, it has also been collecting additional sewage samples from multiple sites in southern KP periodically, and this latest detection is from one such collection site.

Since 2021, no human case has been reported outside the endemic southern KP region.

Dr Baig said this prompt detection would enable the programme to plan a swift response and protect children from paralytic polio. “This is the first positive environmental sample from Lower South Waziristan this year where the last human case was reported in August 2022. So far in 2023, one human case and six positive samples have been reported from Pakistan,” he said.

ISDB funding

Meanwhile, the Islamic Development Bank issued a press release following a meeting of its board of executive directors at Jeddah-based headquarters, stating that ISDB would finance the acquisition of most of the required oral polio vaccines through the provision of over 930 million doses of WHO-prequalified vaccines, which will be deployed for the 231.4m people in Pakistan by Unicef.

The meeting was part of the 2023 annual ISDB group meetings that opened on May 10.

It approved a financing contribution of $100 million, inclusive of a $35m grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to the fourth phase of polio eradication project in Pakistan. The project’s objective is to permanently contain the spread of all polioviruses, including wild poliovirus type-2 (cVDPV2) by the end of 2026, and maintain the Pakistan’s ‘polio-free’ status for the subsequent three years.

The project is being implemented by the ministry of national health services regulations and coordination.

Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2023

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