Health minister says virus detection highlights Pakistan’s efficient polio surveillance system, urges parents to vaccinate children against polio at every opportunity

Islamabad, May 13, 2023 – The Pakistan Polio Laboratory at the National Institute of Health has confirmed the detection of wild poliovirus in an environmental sample from district Lower South Waziristan of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province.

According to the lab, wild poliovirus type 1 was isolated from a sewage sample collected from Qureshi Mohalla in the district’s Wacha Khaura union council on 19 April. The virus is genetically linked to poliovirus found in sewage sample collected from the same district in September 2022.

Federal Health Minister Abdul Qadir Patel said that the detection of poliovirus in the environment is an indication that Pakistan’s polio surveillance system is working efficiently to locate virus circulation and take steps to prevent any further transmission.

The minister said: “Until we eradicate polio in Pakistan, the virus will continue to be a threat to children here and everywhere. Parents and caregivers, it is imperative that you understand the risk to your children and make sure that they receive polio drops in every campaign. This is the only way to ensure lifelong immunity for them.”

He added that a polio campaign is beginning in over 70 districts on 15 May and in southern KP on 29 May, which is the perfect opportunity for parents to get their children vaccinated at their doorstep.

Dr Shahzad Baig, Coordinator of the National Emergency Operations Centre for Polio Eradication, said that in the last stages of eradication, the virus can find refuge and thrive in under-immunised communities, which is why the seven endemic districts of southern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa are of high concern for the Polio Programme.

He said: “Through intensive efforts after last year’s outbreak in southern KP, we have succeeded in containing the virus to this region. Here, the programme is maintaining a sharp focus on repeated quality campaigns, increased polio surveillance, increasing vaccine acceptance and improving overall routine immunization rates.”

The Pakistan Polio Programme is already testing for poliovirus at 114 fixed environmental sites in the country every month. To further enhance surveillance in high-risk areas, it has also been collecting additional sewage samples from multiple sites in southern KP periodically, and this latest detection is from one such collection site. 

Dr Shahzad Baig further said that this prompt detection will enable the programme to plan a swift response and protect children from paralytic polio.

This is the first positive environmental sample from Lower South Waziristan this year where the last human case was reported in August 2022. So far in 2023, one human case and six positive samples have been reported from Pakistan.

It should be noted that no human case has been reported outside the endemic southern KP region in over two years.

Note for the Editor:

Polio is a highly infectious and incurable disease caused by poliovirus, which mainly affects children under the age of five. The virus invades the nervous system and can cause paralysis or even death in some cases. There is no cure for polio, repeated vaccination is the most effective way to protect children. The polio vaccine has protected millions of children from polio, allowing almost all countries in the world to become polio-free. Pakistan and Afghanistan remain the only two endemic countries in the world.

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