On April 29, 2022, the Pakistan National Polio Laboratory at the National Institute of Health confirmed the presence of a new type-1 wild poliovirus (WPV1) in North Waziristan. On April 22, a 15-month-old boy was diagnosed with wild polio. Both children are from North Waziristan in southern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and are members of Mir Ali Union Councils. The WPV1 cases are genetically linked and belong to the same virus cluster, confirming the Pakistan Polio Programme’s concerns for southern KP, where 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 eradicated in the majority of the world,” Health Minister Qadir Patel said. “This is tragic for her family, the community, and all of us in Pakistan, but most of all for this child, who will live with an incurable disease that could have been avoided.”
After wild poliovirus was detected in environmental samples in the fourth quarter of 2021, the polio program identified southern KP as the area most at risk. As a result, an emergency action plan was launched in January of this year, allowing the program to reach more children than ever before and protect them from the paralytic virus before it claimed more lives. “Since the case was confirmed last week, the National and Provincial Polio Emergency Operations Centres have already begun an emergency vaccination campaign.” “I strongly advise everyone traveling for Eid to vaccinate their children, especially if they are traveling from one area to another,” Health Secretary Aamir Ashraf Khawaja said.
“This is heartbreaking for all of us in the polio program.” But we are tenacious and unwilling to give up. While we will do everything possible to ensure that this little girl is the last child to be infected with wild polio, we are concerned that more children from the same area will be affected as the virus spreads,” said Dr. Shahzad Baig, Coordinator of the National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC).
In response to the most recent case detection, an emergency vaccination campaign was launched in southern KP on April 28.
The province of Khyber-Pakhtukhwa reported 22 cases of wild poliovirus in 2020, while no cases of wild poliovirus were reported in the province last year. Pakistan reported one case in 2021 on January 27, 2021 in Killa Abdullah, Balochistan.
“I am in direct contact with the Polio Emergency Operations Centre.” They are remaining extremely vigilant and working tirelessly to ensure that the virus does not spread outside of this specific area. “I am personally looking into the case and conducting detailed investigations,” the health minister said, adding, “I will be visiting the province myself after Eid to monitor the situation on the ground.”
Despite difficult circumstances in difficult-to-reach areas, the polio program’s frontline health workers continue to reach children in North Waziristan. Globally, wild poliovirus types 2 and 3 have been eradicated, while WPV1 cases are at an all-time low. Pakistan, along with Afghanistan, is still one of the only two polio-endemic countries.