Pak polio eradication campaign in disarray, country reports 12 new cases this year

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Islamabad: Pakistan has reported its 12th polio case this year, all in the tribal district of North Waziristan bordering Afghanistan, in a fresh blow to the country’s efforts to eradicate the crippling disease, which can cause severe paralysis in children.

Pakistan is one of the two polio-endemic countries in the world along with its neighbour Afghanistan.

The new case — a 21-month-old boy who had the onset of paralysis on June 18 — was reported on Thursday from Union Council 2 of Mir Ali area. The child has been paralysed in the right leg, according to preliminary investigations.

All the 12 cases this year have been reported from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s (KP) North Waziristan district, with nine of them detected from Mir Ali alone, the Dawn newspaper reported.

However, other areas also remain vulnerable, it said.

“KP’s southern districts, namely North and South Waziristan, Dera Ismail Khan, Bannu, Tank and Lakki Marwat, are at the highest risk of wild poliovirus transmission,” the report quoted an official as saying.

“Bannu also reported two positive environmental samples between April and May this year, confirming that ongoing poliovirus transmission is not limited to North Waziristan,” he said.

KP Special Assistant on Information Muhammad Ali Saif has said the provincial government was committed to eradicating the crippling disease.

In a statement issued on Thursday, he said the provincial government was working to make the province polio-free.

Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said in April that his government was committed to ending all forms of polio in the country, as he appreciated US philanthropist Bill Gates for his help in eradicating the crippling disease.

Attempts to eradicate the crippling disease in Pakistan have been seriously hampered by deadly targeting of vaccination teams in recent years by militants, who oppose the drives, claiming that the polio drops cause infertility.

In 2021, Pakistan reported only one case, raising hopes it was close to eradicating polio. In April this year, however, it reported the first case of the disease in 15 months.

Since April, Pakistan has registered 12 new polio cases – all in North Waziristan, where parents often refuse to inoculate children.

The governments have suspended the anti-polio drive and post-campaign evaluation in the past following attacks on polio workers in different parts of the country.

Pakistan began its first nationwide polio eradication campaign in 1994. At the time, the country was recording 20,000 polio cases each year on average. By 2004, the number of cases had dropped to only 30 per year. Health experts dubbed it a major achievement.

The campaign, however, lost momentum after the September 11, 2001 attacks and the deteriorating security situation over the years.