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Resurfacing of wild polio virus spreads concerns in Pakistan

ANM Desk

Health officials are on high alert as two sewage samples collected from Quetta and Karachi have tested positive for wild polio virus type 1 (WPV1), according to a report by Dawn. These samples genetically link to the imported YB3A cluster of the virus, which is prevalent in Afghanistan. Although Pakistan successfully eradicated the cluster in 2021, its continued circulation in neighboring Afghanistan led to its reintroduction through cross-border transmission in January 2023.

The environmental sample from Karachi was specifically taken from the Keamari district. This recent discovery adds to the concern, as environmental samples from 31 districts have already tested positive for the YB3A polio virus genetic cluster. Additionally, health authorities genetically linked the two polio cases reported in 2024 to this same cluster.

In response to the situation, Pakistan’s National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) for Polio Eradication held a briefing for donors and partner organizations supporting the Pakistan Polio Eradication Initiative (PEI). Prime Minister’s Coordinator on National Health Services, Malik Mukhtar Ahmad Bharath; Federal Health Secretary Nadeem Mehbub; representatives from WHO, Unicef, and Rotary Foundation; Chairman of Pakistan National Polio Plus Committee, Aziz Memon; and officials from donor agencies attended the session.

During the briefing, Bharath reaffirmed Pakistan’s commitment to meeting its global public health obligations and eradicating polio. He highlighted the progress made in polio eradication efforts, attributing it to the support of valued partners and donors. However, he also acknowledged the continued detection of polio cases, emphasizing the ongoing need for intensified efforts.

Health Secretary Mehbub echoed Bharath’s sentiments, expressing the Ministry’s support for the polio eradication program. He stressed the goal of reaching every child with the vaccine and recognized the critical role of partner agencies and donors. Mehbub expressed hope for their continued support as Pakistan aims to interrupt polio virus transmission this year.

The resurgence of wild polio virus in Quetta and Karachi underscores the persistent challenges faced in the fight against polio. Despite previous successes in eradication efforts, the virus’s reintroduction from neighboring countries highlights the importance of cross-border collaboration and vigilance.

Efforts to eradicate polio in Pakistan rely heavily on vaccination campaigns, surveillance, and community engagement. However, reaching every child with the vaccine remains a significant challenge, particularly in high-risk areas.

The detection of polio virus in environmental samples serves as a warning sign. It indicates the need for immediate action to prevent further transmission. Health authorities need to intensify vaccination efforts, particularly in districts where the virus has been detected.

The support of donors and partner organizations is instrumental in sustaining polio eradication efforts in Pakistan. Their continued commitment to funding and resources is vital for implementing effective vaccination campaigns and strengthening surveillance systems.

As Pakistan continues its fight against polio, collaboration between government agencies, NGOs, and international partners is essential. By working together, we can overcome the challenges posed by polio virus transmission and move closer to a polio-free world.

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