Islamabad: Polio is on the rise in Pakistan, health officials said on Wednesday, as the number of infections in 2013 passed the total for the whole of 2012.
Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world where the highly infectious disease which cripples limbs remains endemic.
Opposition from militant groups has hampered efforts to vaccinate children against polio in Pakistan and officials said violence was part of the reason for the increase in cases.
“Last year there were a total of 58 cases, but 62 fresh victims of polio have already been reported in 2013,” a senior government official, who works with international donors working to eradicate polio, told AFP.
Six cases were in eastern Punjab province, four in Sindh in the south and nine in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but by far the bulk of the infections - 43 - were in the tribal areas along the Afghan border.
The Pakistani Taliban banned polio vaccinations in the tribal region of Waziristan last year, alleging the campaign was a cover for espionage.
“The main reason for the outbreak is militancy in the northwest. Vaccination teams are unable to reach the tribal areas because of risks to their lives,” the official said.
Polio cases reached a low of 28 in 2005 but have risen since, reaching a peak of 198 in 2011.
In August health officials warned of a serious polio outbreak in the northwest, saying more than 240,000 children had missed vaccination because of the Taliban ban.
Elsewhere in the country, health workers giving out polio drops have been attacked and killed, including in the largest city Karachi.
On Monday the World Health Organisation linked an outbreak of polio in Syria that has paralysed 13 children to a strain of the virus from Pakistan.
UN: 21 nations take up polio ‘emergency’
GENEVA (AP) - The World Health Organization says 21 nations in the Middle East and nearby regions are jointly declaring the eradication of polio as an emergency priority, and are singling out Pakistan as a key part of the problem.
The U.N.’s health agency’s statement Wednesday said the joint resolution by nations in WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean region have called on Pakistan to urgently vaccinate all of its children to prevent the virus from spreading internationally.
Pakistan also approved the resolution, which the WHO says includes Afghanistan, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
WHO officials said earlier this week that the polio virus has now been confirmed in 13 of 22 children who became paralyzed in a northern Syrian province.
The health agency says the Syria outbreak comes from a strain that originated in Pakistan, where, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria, it is endemic - and has been spreading across the Middle East.
It says the virus has been detected in Egypt, and closely related strains of Pakistani origin turned up in sewage samples in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but higher immunization rates in those places have helped keep the virus in check.