Pakistan is one of the three countries where polio is still categorised as an endemic viral infection. Vaccination efforts have been hampered by threats from Taliban extremists, attacks on fieldworkers and rumours that the shots cause infertility.
Of the cases confirmed on Tuesday, officials at the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Islamabad said that two each were from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and FATA and one each from Sindh and Punjab.
Giving a breakdown of the total cases, health officials said 177 were from Fata; 69 from the K-P; 30 from Sindh; 23 from Balochistan; and four from Punjab. Of the 30 children tested positive for poliovirus in Sindh, 23 belonged to different neighbourhoods of Karachi.
The officials clarified that all these cases were from 2014 as the samples were collected and sent to the NIH for lab tests last year. Since results for a number of cases are awaited, the officials fear the tally might go up.
A senior official at the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination (NHSRC) said that there are around 100 samples – suspected for polio-like paralysis – at the NIH’s Polio Virology Laboratory.
“These samples have been received from across the country in 2014 and have yet to be tested for polio,” the official told The Express Tribune on condition of anonymity. “It is feared that Pakistan will continue reporting polio cases for 2014 till February 2015.”
The official said that 2014 was the worst year for Pakistan as the country witnessed a ‘massive outbreak’ of poliovirus despite ‘many out-of-the-box measures’ tried by the authorities to control the crippling disease.
Officials dealing with the immunisation programme said that among 295 cases confirmed till December 31, over 75% children under the age of two-year were never vaccinated. A detailed study indicates that an overwhelming majority of the cases came from the areas not accessible to polio vaccinators due to a ban imposed by the Taliban in North and South Waziristan agencies.
Polio remains endemic in three countries – Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. And officials say that until poliovirus transmission is interrupted in these countries, all countries remain at risk of importation of polio, especially in the ‘poliovirus importation belt’ of countries from west Africa to the Horn of Africa.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 14th, 2015.