190608 uae polio pakistan
Polio has been eliminated in all countries except Afghanistan and Pakistan. Image Credit: WAM

Islamabad: Pakistan’s health authorities confirmed the third polio case this year after nearing disease-eradication with only one wild poliovirus case in 2021.

In the latest case, the wild poliovirus paralysed a one-year-old child in the North Waziristan district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The child had an onset of paralysis on May 2 in Miranshah town and the case was confirmed by the Pakistan National Polio Laboratory at the NIH in Islamabad on May 14.

“Another child will live with lifelong physical disabilities because of this preventable disease” Health Minister Abdul Qadir Patel regretted. “As a country, we must understand the human cost of not finishing polio from Pakistan. Every polio case is a huge tragedy” he said.

First case in 15 months

On April 22, Pakistan reported its first polio case in nearly 15 months with a toddler paralysed by the crippling disease in the North Waziristan region. The second case of this year, affecting a two-year-old girl, was reported on April 29. All three cases of 2022 have been reported in North Waziristan — the mountainous region in northwest Pakistan, bordering Afghanistan. Polio has been eliminated in all countries except Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“After the first child was paralysed [in North Waziristan], we feared that there would be more polio cases because of how infectious this virus is. Unfortunately, there may be more until every child is reached by the vaccine,” says Health Secretary Aamir Ashraf Khawaja.

Since January, emergency measures have been intensified in the southern districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) to protect children from wild polio, he added. The six districts in southern KP have been identified by the polio programme as the areas at high risk for polio cases.

Anti-polio campaign

Pakistan’s health ministry has announced the launch of a nationwide polio vaccination campaign from May 23-29 after three new cases were reported in recent weeks. This campaign was initially planned for targeted areas at the highest risk but would now be held across Pakistan.

One case in 2021

The resurgence of cases is described as a slight setback for Pakistan’s polio programme which made substantial gains in 2021 with only one wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1) case as compared to 84 cases in 2020. The total number of circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2 (cVDPV2) cases remained at eight in 2021.

Polio is a highly infectious and incurable disease caused by poliovirus mainly affecting children under the age of five. It attacks the nervous system and can cause paralysis or even death. Vaccination is the most effective way to protect children as the virus has no cure.