ISLAMABAD: The government’s polio eradication efforts are apparently failing to achieve the desi­red results as more environmental samples have tested positive for the virus in the first five months of 2024 than in the entire preceding year.

A recent stakeholders meeting for polio eradication in Qatar also noted that Pakis­tan’s situation was worse than Afghanistan.

The current year’s tally of environmental samples tested positive for poliovirus has reached 148 from 39 districts after eight more revealed the presence of the crippling disease. In 2023, there were 126 positive detections from 28 districts.

Three cases of poliovirus have also been repor­ted this year.

Stakeholders’ meeting told Pakistan’s situation ‘worse than Afghanistan’

According to details, the National Institute of Hea­lth Islamabad has confirmed the detection of Type-1 Wild Poliovirus (WPV1) in eight sites in six previously infected districts.

The samples tested by Regional Refer­ence Labor­atory for Polio Eradication were collected from Kara­chi, Sukkur, Hyderabad, Jac­o­babad and Lahore, an official of the polio programme said while requesting anonymity since they were not authorised to spe­ak to the media.

The samples were collected from Orangi Nala and Mohammad Khan Col­ony in Keamari and Landhi Bakh­tawar Village in Malir district of Karachi; Maka Pumping Station and Miani Pumping Station in Sukkur, Latifabad 9 Pumping Station in Hyderabad; Saddar Pumping Station in Jacobabad and Outfall Station-H in Lahore.

A statement issued by the polio programme stated that the samples were genetically linked to the imported YB3A WPV1 genetic cluster.

The cluster, which disappeared from Pakistan in 2021 and remained in circulation in Afghanistan, was reintroduced thr­o­­ugh cross-border transmission last year. All previous detections of the virus have also been linked to the YB3A cluster.

“The Pakistan Polio Programme is implementing an intense vaccination schedule this year to curb the spread of the virus,” the statement added.

Four vaccination campaigns have already been conducted and the next drive will commence from June 3, ahead of Eid which is a peak travel season.

Situation worse than Afghanistan

Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only two countries where the virus remained endemic.

A meeting of the Technical Advisory Group (TAG), held in Doha from May 22 to 25, was told that the situation of poliovirus in Pakistan was worse than Afghanistan.

TAG is an independent body that advises the Ministry of Health and its partners on virus eradication strategies and operations.

The meeting, which reviewed the virus situation in the two neighbouring nations, was told that outside core reservoir districts, 44 districts were affected by the virus in Pakistan since the group’s last meeting in June 2023. In comparison, only eight districts were affected between the previous two TAG meetings, signifying a 6x increase.

The document, used for the briefing at the meeting and available with Dawn, showed that since the 2023 moot, infected districts in Afgha­nistan only doubled — from eight to 18 — compared to the six-fold difference in Pakistan.It mentioned five virus reservoirs in Pak­istan — Peshawar, Quetta, Pis­h­in, Chaman and Karachi — and only two in Afghanistan — Kandahar and Helmand.

Published in Dawn, May 29th, 2024

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