QUETTA: A case of polio virus has been detected in an 18-month-old girl in Qilla Abdullah district, Balochistan -- the first polio case in the district in two-and-a-half years.
The newest case brings the total number of cases this year in Pakistan to 102. The last reported case in Balochistan province was in 2012, and the last one detected in Qila Abdullah was in 2011.
According to Jawahir Habib, a communication specialist for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Balochistan, the virus was detected in 18-month-old Bibi Nazu Bibi, who had come from Karachi to Qila Abdullah in March 2014.
“The family belonged to Qila Abdullah -- a district that shares a border with Afghanistan -- but had been living in Karachi for the past four to five years,” Habib added.
The detected polio virus type is said to be Wild Polio Virus (WPV 1). It is yet to be investigated whether it came from Afghanistan, Karachi or Balochistan.
Habib said the province had remained polio-free for two-and-a-half years. However, it was detected twice this year in samples collected from the sewage system in Quetta.
The reason for the emergence of the new case could not be known, with some officials claiming it was as a result of refusing to have polio drops administered based on religious grounds, while others said campaigners had missed the child.
“The child was missing during the campaign as the family lived [in Karachi for five years], and came here four months ago,” an official of an organisation working on the polio campaign said, on condition of anonymity.
There are two transit points near Karachi and Lasbela district of Balochistan where polio drops are administered to children entering Balochistan, while there are six to seven transit points near Quetta.
However, a World Health Organisation (WHO) doctor said that the family had refused to administer polio drops.
“The family lived in Karachi, where they had refused to administer polio drops to their children. [They also refused it in Qila Abdullah],” the WHO doctor, who requested not to be named, said.
On the other hand, another health official said it seems the child was missing because the organisation does not have any record.
“We do not have any record that a family refused [to have drops administered] in [the] recent campaign in Union Council Maizai of Qila Abdullah district,” he said.
According to UNICEF, there were more than 20,000 families who had refused to administer polio drops to their children in recent campaigns citing religious reasons.
“Around 75% families were persuaded to administer polio drops. These refusal cases often emerge in the northern areas of Balochistan -- which comprises Quetta, Qila Abdullah and Pishin,” said Habib.
However, she added most of the refusal cases were reported because of frequent campaigns -- as they say they cannot administer polio drops twice a month. But they are often persuaded by social mobilisors.
As many as 73 cases were detected in Balochistan solely in 2011, and Qila Abdulla was declared the high-risk area as it had the highest number of cases in Pakistan in 2011. Since then, this was the first case confirmed on Thursday by WHO and UNICEF.
Health Minister Rehmat Baloch and district health officer (DHO) in Qila Abdullah could not be reached for comments.
The Balochistan Health Department convened an emergency meeting on Friday (tomorrow) in Quetta to discuss the situation.