ISLAMABAD: The Emergency Committee under the International Health Regulations on the international spread of poliovirus has expressed fears that the increasing number of polio cases in Afghanistan poses a threat to the programme in Pakistan due to high movement of people between the two countries.

A statement issued on Friday by the Polio Emergency Committee said the risk of international spread of wild poliovirus remained as the threat of ongoing transmission in eastern Afghanistan existed with cross-border spread into Pakistan.

The committee said there have been five new wild poliovirus cases reported in Afghanistan, all from Nangarhar province. However, there have been 32 positive environmental samples to date in 2023, all in the eastern region, except for one site in Kandahar in the southern region and one from Balkh in the north.

Although the number of positive samples in Afghanistan has increased in 2023 compared to the year 2022, this was in part due to more intensive surveillance in the country, with more sites being sampled and increased frequency of testing. A recent environmental detection in Kandahar in the southern region is a public health emergency with a significant risk of a large outbreak because house-to-house campaigns in the south have not been authorised.

The committee meeting convened by the director general of World Health Organisation on August 16, noted that there has been one new case of wild poliovirus in Pakistan since May, bringing the total to two in 2023. Both cases were reported from Bannu district.

International committee says five more children crippled by wild poliovirus in Nangarhar

According to the committee statement, there have been 15 environmental surveillance positive samples in 2023. Although the action plan in southern KP has resulted in 160,000 more children being vaccinated, the context remains challenging, including political instability, insecurity in some areas, with front line workers requiring police patrols to accompany them, and vaccination boycotts where communities make demands for other services in exchange for allowing polio vaccination.

Published in Dawn, August 26th, 2023

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