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Polio not confined to conflict zones

February 21, 2012

Pakistan currently ranks last in the list of polio endemic countries — AFP

ISLAMABAD: Four new polio cases have been reported from across the country, affirming that the crippling virus is no longer confined to or originating from the conflict-ridden northern areas of Pakistan.

“The four new cases bring the total detected cases to 13 for this year,” World Health Organisation (WHO)'s polio chief Dr Nima Abid told Dawn. It is pertinent to mention that during the same time last year, the number of confirmed polio cases in the country stood at eight.This time around, one case each has been reported from Bahawalnagar in Punjab, Khyber Agency in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Hyderabad and Naushahro Feroze in Sindh.

A source within the Unicef polio unit provided further details: “The first of these cases was detected on January 14, and it was an eight-month-old boy from Khyber Agency; the second case was of a 12-month-old boy from Hyderabad; the third of a 30-month-old girl on January 29 from Naushahro Feroze; while the most recent case has been of a 32-month-old girl from Bahawalnagar on February 2.”

Pakistan currently ranks last in the list of polio endemic countries and is being looked at as a country losing the fight against polio. A federal government official close to the health sector added that of the 503 children who presented with symptoms of paralysis, 490 were suffering from other diseases but 13 had been crippled by the polio virus.

Unicef's polio unit media manager Nayan Mirza, when approached for comments, insisted: “Unicef has nothing to do with these polio cases and I am not aware of the new cases. We are only here for advocacy programme of the polio campaign.”

On the other hand, Dr Shehnaz Wazir Ali, Prime Minister's Adviser on Polio, when asked about the spike in polio cases in a low transmission season of polio virus replied: “Even though this is a low transmission season of polio virus; its transmission peaks in summer ; it is prevalent here. Moreover, Pakistan's climate is not that cold that the virus is completely killed in winter.”

When asked about the loopholes in the coverage of the polio eradication campaigns, she said: “A few areas in Balochistan and troubled parts of Fata are still not covered because of the difficult geographic terrain and other issues (such as militancy) but hopefully polio unit will meet the challenging task.”

She added: “However, our polio campaigns do ensure that each area they target is covered. So even if there is low coverage, 90 per cent of the population is targeted.”