ISLAMABAD: Polio incidence in Pakistan has been continuously worsening as 18 more environmental samples have been reported positive with virus reaching to four new districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa taking the tally across the country to 38 [districts].

The country’s positive samples for current year stand at 134, surpassing the total positive samples of 2023, when 126 samples were detected.

Moreover, during 2023 poliovirus was limited to 28 districts, but in just four months of the current year, the virus has spread to 10 more districts, taking the total to 38 districts.

On the other hand, Prime Minister’s Coordinator on National Health Services Dr Malik Mukhtar Ahmed Bharath has stressed the need for increasing the surveillance of the virus and better planning for the upcoming polio campaigns.

Official stresses increased surveillance, better planning for polio campaigns

According to an official of the polio programme, the National Institute of Health, Islamabad, has confirmed the detection of Type-1 Wild Poliovirus (WPV1) from 18 sites, including four new districts – Bannu, Lakki Marwat, Swabi and Swat – and 10 samples have been found from previously infected districts.

“In Bannu virus has been detected from Hinjal-Noorabad environmental sample collection site. In Lakki, the sample was collected from the Tubewell Gali. In Swabi, the sample was collected from Shah Mansoor and Kala Pull Badray areas. In Swat, the environmental sample was collected from Saidu Sharif environmental sample collection site,” the polio programme official said.

“A sample is considered positive if poliovirus is detected in sewage water. A sewage water sample from an area is the basic parameter to determine if polio vaccination campaigns are being carried out successfully,” he said.

“A polio case can be reported in any city due to the frequent movement of people from one city to another, but the presence of the virus in sewage water means that a vaccination campaign in the area did not meet its target. The presence of the virus in sewage water also shows that the immunity level of local children has fallen and they are at risk of the disease,” the official said.

A polio expert requesting anonymity said the situation was becoming out of control as virus was continuously spreading in new districts.

“Only in the month of April virus has been spread in six new districts. As high transmission season has just started so situation will further deteriorate in coming months,” he said.

The polio expert said the government needed to take immediate steps to control the virus.

PM’s coordinator on health Dr Ahmed Bharath also warned that the circulation of virus, especially in high-risk districts, was cause for concern.

According to a statement, while speaking to participants of a workshop attended by deputy commissioners from Balochistan, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, he said all available resources would be used to eradicate poliovirus.

He said some districts were lagging behind and needed to improve their performance.

“Attention needs to be given to high-risk districts, where every child should be vaccinated,” he said.

Published in Dawn, May 11th, 2024

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