Pakistan is grappling with a surge in poliovirus cases, with Interim Health Minister Dr. Nadeem Jan shedding light on the current situation and the challenges ahead. As of now, Pakistan has reported a total of five poliovirus cases in 2023, including cases in Peshawar, Bannu, and Dera Bugti.
Pakistan’s polio eradication efforts have encountered a setback, as the nation recorded two new positive samples just a day after the detection of the third case of the year. This alarming increase has put health authorities on high alert, prompting a reevaluation of existing strategies.
Dr. Nadeem Jan emphasizes that a significant 90% of the poliovirus cases in Pakistan are “imported from Afghanistan.” This highlights the cross-border nature of the issue, underscoring the need for regional cooperation in the battle against polio.
Sewage samples collected from Dera Bugti in Balochistan and Peshawar have tested positive for the poliovirus, displaying a genetic strain similar to that found in Afghanistan. This similarity further emphasizes the interconnectedness of the two countries’ polio challenges.
Currently, Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only two countries where the polio virus remains endemic, posing a persistent threat to global health. Eradicating the virus from these regions is crucial to the worldwide effort to eliminate polio.
The transmission of wild poliovirus is primarily limited to seven districts in southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, including Tank, Bannu, North Waziristan, South Waziristan Upper, South Waziristan Lower, Dera Ismail Khan, and Lakki Marwat. A recent World Health Organization (WHO) report in August 2023 revealed that all reported cases since January were from these very districts.
In response to the escalating crisis, the government has launched a five-day polio vaccination drive targeting approximately 44 million children aged 0-5 years. This monumental effort involves the participation of around 350,000 dedicated polio workers who are working tirelessly to vaccinate children and curb the spread of the virus.
Dr. Jan emphasizes the critical need for vaccination, warning that without it, the imported virus may become a persistent problem in Pakistan. Surveillance and vaccination remain the linchpin of the nation’s efforts to combat polio.
Addressing concerns beyond polio, Dr. Jan also highlights the government’s efforts to combat the circulation of fake medicines. A system to check barcodes is being implemented to ensure the authenticity of medicines. While challenges persist in the implementation, the government is resolute in its determination to eliminate counterfeit drugs, prioritizing public health.
In a brief reference to political matters, Dr. Jan assures the public that the health ministry will adhere to the law and constitution regarding the return of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. This commitment to legal and constitutional processes underscores the government’s dedication to maintaining order and stability in the nation.
Pakistan is facing a critical juncture in its battle against polio, with increasing cases demanding immediate and concerted action. Dr. Nadeem Jan’s insights shed light on the challenges and measures in place to protect the nation’s children from this debilitating disease. It is now more crucial than ever for Pakistan and its neighbors to work together to eradicate polio once and for all, ensuring a healthier future for all.