Polio in Chilas

Environmental samples collected in all provinces indicating that the threat is still present almost everywhere.

Editorial June 10, 2011

The polio case reported from in Chilas in the Gilgit-Baltistan region is a frightening indication that the disease, now endemic in just four countries in the world, may be taking hold in areas considered polio free. The discovery that a two-year-old boy had been stricken by the potentially paralysing disease means that Gilgit-Baltistan can no longer claim to be polio-free, as had previously been thought. It also means Pakistan is even less likely to win its ongoing battle against polio, with 43 cases already reported this year — compared to 20 cases at the same time last year. There had been a total of 144 cases last year — a steady rise from the number uncovered in the country during the earlier years of the decade. The situation, as more cases continued to be reported this year, had prompted President Asif Ali Zardari to launch a polio emergency plan while a taskforce on polio set up by the prime minister has just met — and conducted a meeting assisted by WHO officials. International organisations have also taken up the challenge of attempting to tackle Pakistan’s mounting problem.

It is not insignificant that the family of the little boy found infected by the disease had moved recently to Chilas from Malakand. Past fighting in Malakand has held up vaccination campaigns as have efforts by extremists to prevent children from being protected. We do not yet know if this is a factor in the latest case, but certainly the matter needs to be investigated — as do the other issues which prevent Pakistan from joining the ranks of the world’s polio-free countries. Cross-border transmission from Afghanistan, administrative loopholes in the inoculation process and the lack of accessibility of some areas all appear to be factors in this. They need to be overcome as rapidly as possible, so that control can be regained over a virus that continues to spread and take a toll on increasingly large number of children each year, with environmental samples collected in all provinces indicating that the threat is still present almost everywhere.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 11th, 2011.


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