Health officials in Pakistan are grappling with a concerning surge in polio cases, as a 24-month-old child in Karachi’s UC Gujro, Gadap Town, recently fell victim to the Wild Poliovirus 1.
This incident marks the fourth polio case in Pakistan this year, prompting heightened concerns among health authorities. While genetic sequencing is still underway to officially confirm the source of the virus, experts believe it is genetically linked to the strain circulating in neighboring Afghanistan.
The Pakistan Polio Eradication Programme has emphasized the importance of awaiting genetic sequencing results to declare the case definitively. However, the Ministry of National Health Services and the National Institute of Health (NIH) have already confirmed the child’s paralysis due to polio. Moreover, an environmental sample in Rawalpindi has also tested positive for the poliovirus, indicating a growing threat.
Measures to Combat Polio
In a drastic response to the worsening polio situation, the government of Sindh has introduced a contentious bill that could result in parents being imprisoned for up to one month if they fail to ensure their children are immunized against polio and eight other common diseases.
This move aims to compel parents to participate in vaccination programs actively, but experts at the World Health Organization and other organizations are concerned about the potential consequences.
The unique strategy of imprisoning parents could further erode trust in polio vaccines, particularly in a country where false conspiracy theories about vaccines are widespread, and vaccine workers have faced violence, with dozens of them being shot and killed. The distrust surrounding vaccines has been exacerbated by the fact that the oral polio vaccine itself is responsible for most polio cases worldwide.
Polio Spreading Across Pakistan
The rise in polio cases in Pakistan is further compounded by the alarming increase in environmental samples testing positive for Wild Poliovirus 1. Approximately 48 environmental samples have been found to contain the virus, underscoring the growing threat.
Poliovirus is no longer confined to a specific region but is now being detected in multiple cities across all four provinces of the country. Health authorities are faced with the urgent task of not only containing the spread of polio but also restoring public trust in vaccination campaigns.