ISLAMABAD: Health officials have confirmed a surge in polio incidence with the number of cases detected this year reaching 97, eight more than the previous year. Pakistan is now counted among one of the world’s four remaining polio-endemic countries.
The country is ahead of India (39 cases), Nigeria (8 cases) and Afghanistan (18 cases). Only Tajikistan is higher, following a devastating outbreak leading to 458 new cases earlier this year.
According to the health ministry, four new type-1 polio cases have been confirmed by the laboratory; one each from Bajaur, Mohmand and Khyber agencies in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). And a newly infected district Kashmore in Sindh brings the total number of polio cases country-wide this year to 97 (76 type-1 and 21 type-3 cases). The total number of infected districts/towns/tribal agencies is 30.
Fata is the most critical area to tackle the fight against polio in Pakistan today. The insecurity in the province is the most significant risk to global polio eradication. Out of the total number of cases reported the highest number (35) was from Fata. The reason for the increase in the number of cases is due to the lack of access due to conflict or serious law and order situation leading to them having no access to lack of uniformity in quality vaccination activities.
However, the health ministry has revealed that no polio cases have been reported from Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan over the past decade or so.
However, genetic data evidences show that the viruses present in Sindh and Punjab in Pakistan and along with eastern and northern Afghanistan originated in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Fata. This year, the number of cases reported in the northern areas of Pakistan has tripled due to the floods. As the displacement of 10 million flood victims has caused is contributing to the ongoing insecurity in border areas and increasing the risk of polio outbreaks. At least 558 health facilities have been damaged or destroyed leading in the region, putting an immense burden on the health care system.
Polio is considered a disease of the past in developed countries where successful vaccinations early on for children has kept the debilitating disease from spreading. Despite this, polio is spreading in the developing world, continuing to claim lives and causing debilitating paralysis across the developing world.
The health community is building awareness and providing support to worldwide efforts to eliminate and eradicate the tenacious and devastating disease.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 24th, 2010.