Polio eradication: Concerns raised over virus travelling from Afghanistan

Two recent poliovirus cases were traced to Afghanistan


Umer Farooq April 24, 2016
PHOTO: REUTERS

PESHAWAR:


Although a series of discussions have been held on steps being taken to eradicate polio from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, officials have voiced their concerns over the outbreak of the virus in Kunar, Afghanistan.


“[Kunar] borders Pakistan and since there is no mechanism to monitor movement from Afghanistan into Pakistan, the outbreak might affect the target set to eradicate poliovirus virus from K-P in 2016,” a senior health official told The Express Tribune.

He said a meeting was held at Emergency Operation Cell (EOC) where EOC Coordinator Akbar Khan discussed the achievements as well as improved condition of the fight against the crippling virus.

He added Akbar also discussed the spread of the virus in Kunar.

The official, who requested anonymity since he was not authorised to talk to media, said recently two poliovirus cases – one each reported from Hangu and Nowshera districts – were traced to Afghanistan. The victims had migrated from Afghan regions adjacent to the Pakistani border.



“Akbar informed participants at the meeting that the migration of the virus into Pakistan was a serious concern and needed to be dealt with,” the official quoted the EOC coordinator as saying.

He also expressed his own concerns about the matter, saying the migration of the virus into Pakistan could affect steps being taken to eliminate the virus.

When contacted, Akbar confirmed the concerns were discussed in the meeting.

Efforts acknowledged

According to the officials, the meeting was also attended by Technical Advisory Group (TAG) Chairperson Jean Marc. The chairperson lauded measures taken by the K-P government to eradicate polio.

They said Marc lauded the commitment of the frontline workers that form the backbone of the entire programme. According to the officials, Marc said the teams performed well by fixing the gaps and reaching out to the children missed earlier.

“The continuous community protected vaccination approach in high-risk districts of K-P and tribal areas have decreased the number of children missed [during the drives] as well as reaching out to inaccessible areas,” an official quoted Marc as saying.

Marc was briefed on special interventions done by the government and partners to stop the virus from being transmitted in the province. The steps include inactivated polio vaccination, health camps in four high risk districts of K-P and improved quality of campaigns.

Besides others, K-P Health Secretary Abid Majeed, National EOC Coordinator Dr Rana Safdar, Dr Altaf Bosan, UNICEF team leader Dr Johar, Dr Rahim Khattak, Dr Akram Shah, Dr Imtiaz, Dr Hameed Afridi and World Health Organization representatives also attended the meeting.

Earlier in February, the committee for International Health Regulation re-emphasised that under the regulation, spread of poliovirus between Pakistan and Afghanistan could lead to polio being expanded globally.

At least four cases have been confirmed in 2016 from K-P, three from Balochistan and one case was confirmed in Sindh.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 25th,  2016.

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