Pakistan has reported its first polio case of 2023 after a three-year-old boy in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Bannu district became the latest victim of the crippling disease, according to a media report on March 18.
The case has been reported at a time when delegations of the French Agency for Development (FAD) and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) are in the cash-strapped country to analyse efforts to eradicate the disease, the Dawn newspaper reported.
The Health Ministry on March 17 said the FAD and BMGF delegations met the Federal Health Minister Abdul Qadir Patel to discuss avenues for cooperation in social protection and health, with a focus on polio eradication.
The head of the National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) for Polio, Dr. Shahzad Baig, said an investigation was ongoing to identify whether the child received the vaccination or the parents refused vaccination.
“However, it is clear that the child was not fully protected and that is why the boy was attacked by the virus,” Dr. Baig told Dawn. He said this was the first case of the current year which has been reported after a gap of five months.
Health authorities have issued an alert on the back of the expected movement from tribal districts to urban areas in Ramazan and Eid. The authorities are now planning a vaccination drive in tribal districts from April 10 as currently security personnel are engaged in the digital census.
The NEOC head said there were seven districts in southern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP), including Dera Ismail Khan, Lakki Marwat, Tank, Bannu, South Waziristan, and North Waziristan, where the virus is prevalent. “[These areas] need to be targeted vigorously in the vaccination campaign.”
The region was the epicentre of the virus in 2022 with all 20 cases being reported from districts in southern KP. Of them, 17 were from North Waziristan, two were from Lakki Marwat, and one was from South Waziristan.
While a polio campaign was carried out in Sindh, Punjab, and Islamabad in March, the drive couldn’t be started in KP and Balochistan as security staff was occupied with census duties.
The BMGF is one of the biggest contributors supporting Pakistan’s efforts to end the virus. The visits are aimed at identifying Pakistan’s needs and understanding areas for support in light of the 2022 floods, which left more than 33 million people in need of aid. During the meeting on polio eradication, Health Minister Patel said the health service infrastructure was severely damaged in many districts as a result of floods.
“Thousands of people lost their homes and livelihoods, placing a severe strain on social protection mechanisms. We are still recovering, but despite these toughest of times, Pakistan has not diluted its focus from polio eradication,” a Health Ministry statement quoted Mr. Patel as saying.
The Gates Foundation delegation was led by Jay Wenger, the global head for polio eradication, while the FAD delegation was headed by Agnes Soucat, the director of health and social protection.
The delegation took note of the progress made by Pakistan in 2022 and hoped that the virus, restricted to seven districts, will soon be eradicated. “Thanks to the generous support of the international community, Pakistan has been aggressively fighting the poliovirus,” the Health Minister said.
Earlier this year in January, environmental samples from Lahore — the second biggest city after Karachi — tested positive for the polio virus, prompting the authorities to start a vaccination campaign in 26 union councils of the city, according to the Dawn report.