The polio problem

Published March 16, 2024

IT is a tragedy that could have been prevented. Six months after researchers at the National Institute of Health’s Pakistan Polio Laboratory flagged the presence of wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV-1) in sewage samples collected from Dera Bugti in Balochistan, a 30-month-old child has been paralysed by the virus. The child had been suffering weakness in his lower limbs, which worsened progressively. Doctors recently diagnosed it as poliomyelitis, after discovering the poliovirus in biological samples collected from the patient. The particular strain of poliovirus that affected the child is said to be part of the YB3A cluster, which, experts say, has been ‘imported’ from Afghanistan. Health officials last year blamed it for 90pc of all cases reported in Pakistan recently. The Dera Bugti case is Pakistan’s first reported polio case for 2024, and the first in the district in 13 years, underlining the severe risk that the movement of at-risk populations poses to Pakistan’s health systems.

Given that the rising incidence of polio in Pakistan has been a matter of major concern for the country’s authorities for quite some time now, it is inexcusable that identified risks are still not being mitigated as proactively as they ought to be. For example, given the forewarning of the presence of WPV-1 in Dera Bugti, one would have expected the health administration to have had more success in preventing infections in the area. On a similar note, a polio prevention plan should have by now been made a central part of Pakistan’s agenda for diplomatic interactions with the Afghan leadership, considering that the two countries are the only two in the world where the disease is endemic. However, it appears that Islamabad has yet to formulate a position on the matter. Our dedicated health workers are risking their lives to ensure a polio-free Pakistan; they must also get all the support they need from the state’s administrative machinery.

Published in Dawn, March 16th, 2024

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