ISLAMABAD: The second polio case in as many days has once again raised concerns over the efforts to end the crippling disease from Pakistan.

The latest case has been repor­ted from Balochistan’s Chaman district, where a 52-month-old child has been paralysed by the wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1).

According to the Regional Re­­fe­rence Lab for Polio Eradication at the National Institute of Health (NIH), Islamabad, WPV1 was isolated from the child’s stool samples.

The isolated virus belongs to the imported YB3A cluster, which has been detected in 10 positive samples reported from Chaman since October 2023.

The case surfaced a day after a 30-month-old boy was reported to have been paralysed in Dera Bugti. The child had weakness in both his lower limbs, and the isolated virus belongs to the imported YB3A cluster.

Pakistan Medical Association calls for filling gaps in immunisation efforts

An NIH lab official said poliovirus is in communities and continues to remain a persistent threat to children across the country since it has been detected in 56 environmental samples of more than 25 districts so far this year and in more than 100 sewage samples last year.

“The virus particularly attacks children who are malnourished and have weak immunity because of being under-vaccinated or not vaccinated for polio and other childhood diseases.”

The official urged parents, caregivers, religious leaders, teachers and community elders to play their role in countering the disease and ensure that all children under five years of age are during immunisation drives.

Since the beginning of 2024, the national polio programme has conducted two vaccination drives targeting 45 million children.

In response to the new cases, a fresh polio drive will begin on March 25 in districts where the virus has been detected. The drive will target more than six million children.

PMA expresses concerns

Experts have said the new cases indicated gaps in immunisation efforts and emphasised steps to tackle the disease.

“It is disheartening to see the polio cases which indicate the gaps in immunisation efforts and underscores the importance of ensuring that every child receives the polio vaccine,” Pakistan Medical Association (PMA), the representative body of health practitioners, said in a press release.

“We urge parents to cooperate with healthcare workers and vaccinate their children,” it said.

PMA Secretary General Dr Abdul Ghafoor Shoro said poliovirus is a highly infectious disease that mainly affects children under the age of five.

It causes paralysis, permanent disability, and, in severe cases, can be fatal, he added.

“Despite substantial progress in the fight against polio, Pakistan remains one of the two countries where the disease is still endemic”.

“He said that the recent cases serve as a “wake-up call” for health authorities, healthcare workers, and communities across Pakistan.

“The only way to protect children from polio is through vaccination, Dr Shoro said, adding that consistent and widespread immunisation campaigns are “critical to eradicating this disease once and for all”.

The PMA emphasised the role of public awareness in addressing vaccine hesitancy and dispelling misconceptions surrounding polio im­­m­unisation, he said. He stressed effo­rts to inform communities about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine, encouraging them to participate in vaccination campaigns.

“Vaccination efforts must be in­­t­e­­nsified while simultaneously en­­s­u­ring the safety of healthcare workers and communities,” Dr Shoro said. “As Pakistan strives to achieve polio eradication, the PMA remains dedicated to supporting governm­ent efforts and collaborating with all stakeholders to protect children from this debilitating disease.”

Published in Dawn, March 16th, 2024

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