PM Shehbaz summons National Task Force meeting after first polio case detected in 15 months

Following the detection of the first case of polio in Pakistan after a lapse of 15 months, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif called a meeting of the National Task Force for Polio Eradication on Monday.

The prime minister requested a report from the relevant authorities on the reasons behind the detection of wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1) in the North Waziristan region, directing them to formulate an action plan for polio eradication.

Wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1) was confirmed in a 15-month-old boy on April 22, 2022 with the onset of paralysis on April 9, reported the National Polio Laboratory located at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The laboratory has also confirmed the detection of a positive environmental sample collected on April 5, 2022 in the Bannu district of Khyber Pakhtwnkha. Both viruses are closely related. Pakistan had reported a case of polio last year on January 27, 2021 in Killa Abdullah, Baluchistan.

Commenting on the development, Health Secretary Aamir Ashraf said: “This is of course a tragedy for the child and his family and it is also very unfortunate both for Pakistan and for polio eradication efforts around the world. . We are disappointed but not deterred.”

“The case has appeared in southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where poliovirus was detected in the environment at the end of last year and where an emergency action plan is already being implemented.

“The National and Provincial Polio Emergency Operations Centers have virus teams to conduct a full investigation of the recent case, while emergency immunization campaigns are underway to prevent the spread of wild polio in Pakistan.”

The polio program identified southern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa as the highest risk area after wild poliovirus was detected in environmental samples in the last quarter of 2021. Positive samples were found in DI Khan and Bannu divisions.

Dr. Shahzad Baig, coordinator of the National Emergency Operations Center (NEOC), said: “This validates the program’s concerns about the circulation of the virus in southern KP and strengthens our resolve to reach every child with the vaccine. against polio”.

In 2020, KP province reported 22 cases, while no cases of wild poliovirus were reported in the province last year. Substantial progress has been made recently, with most areas accessible to implement immunization campaigns, but entrenched problems and security concerns remain in limited areas. Despite the challenges, the program’s brave frontline workers continue to reach children with the life-saving vaccine.

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Wild poliovirus types 2 and 3 have been eradicated globally, while WPV1 cases are at an all-time low. Two other cases of WPV1 were reported this year, one in Afghanistan and one in Malawi.

Minister calls for ‘concentrated efforts’

Meanwhile, while chairing a meeting at the Ministry of National Health Services, Health Minister Abdul Qadir Patel called for concentrated efforts to overcome the last remaining bottlenecks and challenges to finish the job of polio eradication.

“Pakistan has overcome the most daunting challenges and we are now well prepared to stop poliovirus transmission. Even a single case of polio must be taken seriously and no effort must be spared to ensure complete eradication of the disease,” said Patel.

He appreciated the performance of the polio program and frontline workers and assured the full support of the government to ensure the future of children in Pakistan.