With the Independent Monitoring Board recommending travel restrictions on polio endemic countries, reports of the transmission of a newly-discovered poliovirus strain from Pakistan to Afghanistan is likely to complicate an already tough situation for Islamabad.
Two Afghan children, living close to the border with Pakistan, have been paralysed by the Sabin Like (2) poliomyelitis, officials in the Polio Programme told The Express Tribune. The cases were reported from Afghanistan’s Kandahar province two days ago – one in Panjwai district and the other in Spin Boldak, they added. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has confirmed the two new cases.
According to the officials, genetic sequencing has confirmed the new polio strain originated in Balochistan’s Killa Abdullah district. They said Sabin Like (2) poliomyelitis develops in children with an extremely poor record of routine immunisation – a situation rampant in Balochistan.
Since 2006, polio vaccination teams have repeatedly missed an estimated 50,000 children in Killa Abdullah, derailing efforts to eradicate the virus in the country.
This is not the first case of poliovirus transmission from Pakistan to a neighbouring country either. Last year, 16 children in China’s Xinjiang province were paralysed after being infected by a polio strain originating in Pakistan.
“The paramedic association and health department of Balochistan continues to hold the polio-eradication campaign hostage in Killa Abdullah through unfair demands … It has now resulted in embarrassment for Pakistan before the world community,” an official of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) told The Express Tribune on condition of anonymity.
WHO senior coordinator for polio eradication Dr Elias Durry said the organisation was monitoring the situation in Balochistan closely.
“We are seriously concerned about the new poliovirus strain and are recommending urgent steps to the provincial government to contain the outbreak,” said Dr Durry. The only way to contain the spread of the virus is by conducting three to four high-quality polio vaccination rounds in the infected districts and their nearby areas, he said.
Meanwhile, a special WHO delegation, led by internationally acclaimed polio eradication expert Dr Mohammed Mohammedi, has reached Balochistan and is holding indepth discussions with the provincial government over ways to combat the outbreak.
“We have asked the provincial government to hold three emergency polio campaigns each in Quetta, Killa Abdullah and Pishin districts during a span of 30 days to control the spread of the virus to other parts of the country,” said Dr Mohammedi, adding that the first campaign in the three districts was scheduled for December 10.
Pakistan has reported a total of 56 polio cases this year so far. A massive 181 cases were reported in 2011.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 2nd, 2012.