With more than 90 per cent of the current polio cases in the country genetically linked to Peshawar, the provincial capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is now the largest reservoir of endemic polio virus in the world, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Friday.

A press statement said Pakistan is the only polio-endemic country in the world where polio cases rose from 2012 to 2013. According to the latest genomic sequencing results of the Regional Reference Laboratory for Poliovirus, 83 out of 91 polio cases in the country during the last year are genetically linked to the polio virus circulating actively in Peshawar. Moreover, 12 out of the total 13 cases reported during the previous year from Afghanistan are also directly linked to Peshawar.

For the last four years, samples of sewage water from throughout the country are periodically tested for presence of polio virus in the environment. Eighty-six samples of sewage water were collected from different locations of Peshawar since the last four years, and 72 of these samples have shown the presence of the highly contagious and paralytic wild polio virus strain, the statement pointed out.

During the last six months, all the samples collected from various locations of Peshawar have shown presence of the highly contagious wild polio virus strain in the environment.

Peshawar has reported 45 polio cases during the last 5 years whereas four cases were reported during the previous year from Peshawar.

The explosive polio virus outbreak in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), which has left 65 children paralyzed during the last year, owes its origins to Peshawar. As much of the population of the area moves through Peshawar, the city acts as an amplifier of the polio virus.

The prevailing security situation in Peshawar has seriously affected the quality of polio campaigns in the city and resulting in inadequate coverage of children against the virus. The existing state of polio eradication efforts in Peshawar by the provincial government should be improved in order to interrupt polio virus transmission. The WHO recommends that repeated, high quality vaccination campaigns – accompanied by strong monitoring – be held in Peshawar to stop this transmission and protect children from polio, the statement said.

There have been several incidents where terrorists have targeted polio workers and security personnel accompanying them. Fighting polio has become fraught with fear every time there is a vaccination campaign but the government is pressing on despite the loss of life and terror threats.