A two-year-old boy in Chilas became the first polio victim this year in Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) negating health department claims that the region is polio-free. Obaidullah tested positive at the Chilas district headquarters [DHQ] hospital, sources said on Monday.
The news comes just a few days after the first meeting of the National Task Force for polio eradication, held in Islamabad on June 1, chaired by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.
The meeting was attended by chief ministers of Punjab, Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), as well as the governor of K-P and a host of federal and provincial officials.
Representatives from international agencies, such as the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), were also in attendance. They announced reported cases of polio since January in their respective districts: 12 cases have been registered in Sindh, including four in Karachi. K-P has had three reported cases, Balochistan 11 and FATA 18.
G-B was, at the time of the meeting, thought to be polio-free which is why the new case triggered unease among Chief Minister Mehdi Shah and officials at the G-B health department. The health secretary himself, Dr Hasan Amacha, visited Obaidullah.
Obaidullah’s family recently relocated from Malakand to Chilas, the major town in Diamer district, in search of better economic opportunities. Chilas is about 135 kilometres from Gilgit.
According to GPEI, a public-private partnership spearheaded by the World Health Organisation, Rotary International, US Centre for Disease Control and the United Nations Children’s Fund, year-to-date polio cases in Pakistan are 44, up from nine at this time last year.
In 2010, Pakistan reported 144 cases in total, a situation aggravated by the poor hygiene and general chaos following last year’s floods.
For 2011, Pakistan has the third highest number of reported cases in the world, behind Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo, with 57 and 50 cases respectively. Pakistan’s plight has attracted attention from international donors. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pledged $85 million in support of Pakistan’s eradication efforts. In January President Asif Ali Zardari launched a national polio emergency plan, with the goal of ridding the country of polio by the end of 2011.
The goal seems frustratingly out of reach at this point. The plan’s primary tenet includes a monitoring cell to ensure that every child under five is vaccinated.
However, according to K-P Governor Barrister Masood Kausar, the presence of militants is hampering the campaign in certain parts of his province and an influx of Afghan refugees is further complicating matters. A representative from Balochistan, Perveen Magsi, said that certain areas were difficult to access because of lack of roads and means of communication.
(With additional reporting by Cheree Franco in Karachi)
Published in The Express Tribune, June 7th, 2011.
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