Polio Virus Found in Nine Cities Across Pakistan, Raising Alarm for Eradication Efforts

Pakistan is facing a serious challenge in its efforts to eradicate polio, as nine environmental (sewage) samples collected from different parts of the country have tested positive for Type-1 Wild Poliovirus (WPV1), the most dangerous and infectious strain of the virus.

According to the regional reference laboratory for polio eradication at the National Institute of Health Islamabad, the samples were collected in December 2023 from Multan, Karachi South, Karachi Malir, Peshawar, Nowshera, Dera Ismail Khan, Quetta, Hub and Mastung. The isolated virus collected from all the samples is classified as a YB3A cluster, which indicates a common origin and transmission.

These new detections take the total number of positive environmental (sewage) samples in Pakistan in 2023 to 124, showing that the virus is still circulating widely in the country. Pakistan is one of the three remaining polio-endemic countries in the world, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria. However, since the launch of the Pakistan’s Polio Eradication Programme in 1994, there has been a significant decline in polio cases in Pakistan from approximately 20,000 every year in the early 1990s to only eight cases in 2018.

The positive environmental samples are a cause for concern, as they indicate that the virus is reaching susceptible children who are not adequately immunized against polio. Environmental sampling is a supplementary method of polio surveillance that involves testing sewage or wastewater for the presence of poliovirus. It helps to identify areas where the virus is circulating, even if no cases are reported.

The Pakistan Polio Eradication Programme, which is supported by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), has been implementing various strategies and interventions to reach every child with polio vaccines, strengthen surveillance and maintain political commitment, financial resources and technical support at all levels.

In order to stop the transmission of poliovirus and protect the children from lifelong paralysis, the programme has planned an intense vaccination schedule for 2024, with five nationwide and five sub-national immunization campaigns. The programme has also set up 500 permanent transit points across all major transit points nationwide to vaccinate children who are travelling or on the move. Moreover, the programme has been enhancing its coordination with counterparts in Afghanistan to synchronize aspects of programme operations and management.

The programme has urged all parents and caregivers to ensure that their children under the age of five receive two drops of oral polio vaccine (OPV) in every door-to-door campaign, regardless of their previous immunization status. The programme has also appealed to all stakeholders, including religious leaders, media, civil society, health workers and security forces, to play their role in creating awareness and facilitating the vaccination activities.

Polio is a highly infectious disease that mainly affects children under the age of five. It can cause irreversible paralysis and even death. There is no cure for polio, but it can be prevented by vaccination. The OPV is safe, effective and free of cost. It has been used to eradicate polio in most parts of the world.

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