The U.N. agency has confirmed 10 cases of virus in battle-torn eastern province of Dier al-Zour
With nearly three quarters of a million children under the age of five not being immunised against polio in Pakistan — to cite WHO — the Polio virus is having an unchecked run Pakistan’s frontier areas.
High-ranking sources from the World Health Organisation (WHO) here say indications are that the polio outbreak reported from Syria can be traced to Pakistan.
However, Oliver Rosenbauer, spokesperson, Global Polio Eradication Initiative, WHO, Geneva, told The Hindu in an e-mail that without results of the ongoing final genetic sequencing, it was difficult to say.
“We probably won’t have final results on that until early next week,” he added.
Before this, the virus from Pakistan was found in Egypt, Palestine and Israel, according to the WHO. Pakistan was responsible for the international spread in 2011 and the virus from Pakistan caused an outbreak in western China, according to the WHO.
Pakistan had over 20,000 cases of polio before the WHO started its immunisation programme in 1994 but after that the cases were brought down to 2000, said Dr. Elias Durry, Emergency Coordinator for Polio Eradication, Pakistan, in an interview to The Hindu on Wednesday.
From 199 cases in 2000 it went down to 28 in 2008 and in 2012 it was 58. In 2013, 53 have been detected so far, 37 of them in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
Ever since Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadur’s ban in June 2012, the areas in North and South Waziristan have become out of bounds for vaccination teams.
The only remaining reservoirs of wild poliovirus type 3 (WPV3) in Asia are in the Khyber Agency and FATA.
Following the ban by Taliban, 2,61,000 children in North and South Waziristan could not be reached.
Some 65, 000 refusals were recorded in September due to religious and medical reasons.
Dr. Durry said that since 2008 the main areas for virus transmission were Balochistan (Killa Abdullah, Pishin and Quetta districts), Sindh (Karachi, in particular Gadap Town, and northern Sindh) and parts of FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK).
Though the campaign was launched in 1994, it was not until 2011 that it was taken seriously when Pakistan formulated a National Emergency Action Plan, making district deputy commissioners directly accountable for the immunisation programme.
From 198 cases in 2011 the intensity of the virus has been curbed and environmental surveillance of sewage samples, which used to show a high incidence of the virus, is now recording new lows. Since July 2012, 24 people — 15 polio volunteers and nine policemen — have been killed. The last round of the vaccination programme in September was held under tight security with gun-toting policemen watching out for terrorists while children were given doses in some parts of the country.
The WHO maintains that polio in Pakistan poses a significant risk to neighbouring countries all of which, except Afghanistan, are polio-free.