The presence of the crippling poliovirus was confirmed in a toddler in the Mehmoodabad area of Chaman tehsil on Wednesday, making it the first polio case for the year in Balochistan and third in the country.

According to sources within the health department, Ahmed Shah, the 18-month-old infant son of Agha Shah, is a resident of Rah Mohammad Mohalla in Killa Abdullah district.

The child had received only two or three doses of the polio vaccine since birth, said health officials, adding that his mother and grandmother had repeatedly refused vaccination drops.

According to the child’s family, the child developed high fever and constipation and they first took him to a local dispensary and then the local children’s hospital where doctors suspected he had contracted polio.

Health officials said the presence of the virus was confirmed after stool samples were tested and other medical tests conducted.

Southern Afghanistan and Quetta is thought be an active region for poliovirus transmission in the world.

National Coordinator of Emergency Operation Centre Dr Rana Muhammad Safdar told The Express Tribune that though it was sad that a poliovirus case had emerged from hotspot of Quetta block where virus has been consistently present, it did not really come as a surprise.

The 18-month-old child comes from a refusal family with zero oral polio vaccine (OPV) in routine, no inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) and only three anti-polio campaign doses.

Tehsil Chaman is one such area where there is strong tribal system, illiteracy, religious misconceptions leading to refusal pockets. Other potential areas of concern under intense programme focus include South K-P (Bannu, Tank, Karak) and a few areas in Karachi. In Chaman, risk multiplies as people are closely linked and even cross the border to earn daily living.

These are ‘hidden refusals’ as the teams are often told that the child is not in the city, Dr Safdar stated.

“We encounter around 20,000 refusals during each national campaign. These become problematic when in clusters within the same street, mohalla or village providing space for the virus to survive. But against the overall target of 38 million children they are negligible,” he maintained.

Message from virus is very clear, he said adding that polio will find and hit the child with suboptimal immunity where ever he or she exists.

“We really need parents to take care of their children, a responsibility entrusted on them by Allah. And it takes nothing but to bring the child to their own doorstep”.

He said the government or Sehat Muhafiz avoid strict measures or actions to convince parents because of the negative repercussions.

This is Pakistan’s third case in 2017 as compared to 13 reported during the same time period in 2016. Previous cases occurred in Lodhran and Diamer during January and February respectively.

The International Monitoring Board (IMB) in its recent report had expressed concern over the programme’s quality in the Quetta Block which “is still well below peak performance and contains the highest number of susceptible children”. It was also concerned over missed children on the move with their families.

The report had observed that if the country had even a half-competent routine immunisation programme in its reservoirs, polio would have been eliminated a long time ago.

Meanwhile, intense preparations are underway for a special targeted campaign in vulnerable pockets of 73 districts/towns/agencies across the country including Quetta. Next campaign in Quetta block is scheduled to start from July 24 to 30.

The programme will target a total of 10.44 million children under the age of five (0.829 million in Punjab, 4 million in Sindh, 2.93 million in K-P, 1.368 million in Balochistan, 0.342 million in Fata, 0.453 million in AJK, 0.132 million in GB and 0.31 million children in Islamabad).

Source: Express Tribune


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