ISLAMABAD, APRIL 29, 2022 – A two-year-old girl was paralyzed by the wild poliovirus in the second case confirmed in Pakistan this year.

The child had an onset of paralysis on April 14.

The new type-1 wild poliovirus (WPV1) was confirmed from North Waziristan on 29 April 2022 by the Pakistan National Polio Laboratory at the National Institute of Health in Islamabad.

On 22 April, a 15-month boy had been confirmed with wild polio with an onset of paralysis on 9 April. Both children are from North Waziristan, Southern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and belong to adjacent Union Councils of Mir Ali. The WPV1 cases are genetically linked and belong to the same virus cluster, further validating the Pakistan Polio Programme’s concerns for Southern KP, where continuous virus circulation has been detected.

“It is heartbreaking to learn that a two-year-old girl will be paralyzed for the rest of her life by a virus that has been eliminated in most parts of the world,” said Health Minister Qadir Patel. “This is tragic for her family, for the community and all of us in Pakistan, but mostly for this child, who will live with an incurable disease that was entirely preventable.”

Southern KP had been identified by the polio programme as the area most at risk after wild poliovirus was detected in environmental samples in the last quarter of 2021. Following this, an emergency action plan was initiated in January this year that is allowing the programme to reach more children than ever before and protect them from the paralytic virus before it affects more lives.

“The National and Provincial Polio Emergency Operations Centres are already conducting an emergency vaccination campaign following the confirmation of the case last week. I strongly urge everyone travelling for Eid to vaccinate their children if they are travelling from one area to another,” Health Secretary Aamir Ashraf Khawaja said.

“This is deeply sad for all of us in the polio programme. But we are resilient and unwilling to fail. While we will do whatever it takes to ensure that this little girl is the last child with wild polio, we fear that more children from the same area may be affected as the virus circulates,” said National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) Coordinator Dr Shahzad Baig.

As a response to the last case detection, an emergency vaccination campaign was launched on April 28 in South KP.

In 2020, the province of Khyber-Pakhtukhwa reported 22 cases, while no wild poliovirus cases were recorded in the province last year. In 2021, Pakistan reported one case on 27 January 2021 in Killa Abdullah, Balochistan.

“I am directly in contact with the Emergency Operations Centre for polio. They remain highly vigilant and are urgently working to ensure that the virus does not spread outside this particular area. I am personally looking into the case and detailed investigations pertaining to it,” the health minister said, adding that, “After Eid, I will be visiting the province myself to monitor the situation on ground.”

The polio programme’s health workers on the frontline continue to reach children in North Waziristan despite challenging circumstances in hard-to-reach areas.

Wild poliovirus types 2 and 3 have been eradicated globally, while WPV1 cases are at an historic low. Pakistan remains one of only two polio-endemic countries along with Afghanistan.

Poliovirus is highly infectious and until this last remaining epidemiological bloc is wiped out, children all over the world remain at risk of life-long paralysis or death.

Note for the Editor:

Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by poliovirus mainly affecting children under the age of five years. It invades the nervous system and can cause paralysis or even death. While there is no cure for polio, vaccination is the most effective way to protect children from this crippling disease. Each time a child under the age of five is vaccinated, their protection against the virus is increased. Repeated immunisations have protected millions of children from polio, allowing almost all countries in the world to become polio-free, besides the two endemic countries of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The next sub-national Polio vaccination campaign is planned to be conducted from 23 – 27 May 2022 in which over 24 million under five children will be targeted for vaccination.

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