The health ministry on Friday confirmed Pakistan’s first polio case of 2023, a three-year-old boy of Bannu in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, whose legs have been affected by the crippling disease.
According to authorities, neither the patient nor his family have any travel history, suggesting the spread of wild poliovirus in the area. According to daily Dawn, the head of the National Emergency Operations Centre for Polio, Dr. Shahzad Baig, said authorities were conducting a probe to determine whether the child had been vaccinated against the poliovirus or the parents had refused it.
Despite the presence of wild poliovirus in environment samples from other parts of the country, KP is traditionally the epicenter of the disease, with all 20 cases of 2022 being reported from the province. Hampering anti-polio efforts further, KP and Balochistan have yet to commence a polio drive this year, as security staff has been deployed to ensure the completion of the census. Authorities said plans were underway to initiate a vaccination drive in tribal districts from April 10 after the census had been completed.
The confirmation of the first case came at the same time delegations of the French Agency for Development and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation were visiting the country to examine ongoing efforts to eradicate the disease. In a statement, the health ministry said both delegations had met Health Minister Abdul Qadir Patel and discussed various means to cooperate for social protection and health, with a focus on polio eradication.
It said the health minister had lamented that health service infrastructure had been severely damaged in many districts as a result of last year’s floods. “We are still recovering, but despite these toughest of times, Pakistan has not diluted its focus from polio eradication,” it quoted Patel as saying.
The delegations, read the statement, appreciated Pakistan’s progress in countering polio last year, and hoped that it would “soon” be eradicated.