The Prime Minister’s polio cell, the World Health Organisation (WHO), and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) confirmed that a newly-found strain of the polio virus is the result of persistently low Routine Immunisation (RI) coverage in the Pishin and Qilla Abdullah districts of Balochistan.
The virus has been confirmed in four children in Qilla Abdullah and one in Pishin, according to a joint statement issued on Thursday.
The release stated that ‘cVDPV (Type 2)’ cases are due to poor routine immunisation coverage that may cause type 2 poliovirus to mutate and attain a form that can cause paralysis after passing through multiple children in environments with substandard sanitation.
“The cVDPV (Type 2) is an extremely rare strain of the polio virus that has been isolated in other parts of the world in countries with low RI coverage such as Somalia and Nigeria,” stated WHO Senior Coordinator for Polio Eradication Dr Elias Durry.
According to the WHO, cVDPVs (Type 2) can be rapidly finished with two to three rounds of high quality, targeted polio campaigns. Outbreak response strategies are the same for all strains: immunise every child under the age of five years several times with OPV to stop polio transmission, through polio campaigns and improvement of routine immunisation coverage.
According to the Prime Minister’s Polio Monitoring and Coordination Cell, the discovery of the new cases highlights serious performance gaps resulting in children being persistently missed in different areas of the country.
“Routine immunisation in Balochistan remains abysmally low and urgent measures need to be taken by the provincial government to control the situation,” the PM’s focal person on polio eradication Shahnaz Wazir Ali said.
“Instructions have been issued to the provincial health department to conduct an emergency campaign in Quetta, Pishin and Qilla Abdullah on November 15 as a response to this new strain of the virus,” she added.
According to UNICEF, the detection of the new strain calls for improved operations and communications at the grassroots level.
“Strategies for demand creation must be urgently strengthened so caregivers understand and seek out routine vaccination for their children so they are better protected from preventable diseases like polio,” said the Chief of the polio unit at UNICEF Dennis King. He added that an integrated response was critical to defeat polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 9th, 2012.