Pakistan, Health News : After infecting China, Egypt, Palestine and Syria, the Pakistan poliovirus now threatens Turkey and parts of Europe as the ban on anti-polio campaign in parts of the tribal areas continues to deprive thousands of children of vaccination against the crippling disease.
The situation also mocks the authorities of the polio programme, who tried their level best to eradicate polio from Pakistan. After confirmation from the WHO and Unicef that the poliovirus that infected 13 children in Syria belonged to Pakistan, scientists in Europe have now put the Republic of Turkey in a state of high alert, fearing that the massive refugee movement into the country from Syria may transmit the poliovirus.
Dr Martin Eichner from the University of Tubingen and Stefan Brockmann of Germany’s Reutlingen Regional Public Health Office in their joint article published in the globally famous Lancet Medical Journal said that most European countries administer anti-polio vaccine at the time of birth, rather than giving anti-polio drops repeatedly.
“Since a large number of refugees are fleeing Syria and seeking refuge in neighbouring countries and Europe, there is now a chance the virus could be carried to the areas that have been polio-free for decades,” he said.
A health expert requesting anonymity said the social sector minister of Syria had been claiming that the virus was transmitted from Pakistan’s militancy-affected Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) into his country as he intended to prove the foreign militants’ involvement in Syria’s uprising.
“According to our research, the virus that has been detected in Syria was the same that was traced in Egypt and it has been transmitted from Egypt to Syria and has nothing to do with Fata rebels,” explained an official of the WHO.
Pleading anonymity, he said Pakistan may be singled out for international travel restrictions if steps were not taken to stop the transmission of poliovirus from the country.
“The mistrust of parents in the anti-polio drive and increasing number of refusals by parents is the biggest challenge for the anti-polio drive in the country,” a WHO official said.
He revealed that Pakistan recorded a huge number of 65,000 families that refused administering polio vaccines to their children during the recentlyconcluded polio campaign. By recording 62 polio cases this year, Pakistan has already crossed last year’s polio case count of 58.
The experts believe that the country was on track to report over 70 polio cases during the current year. The Fata region remains the frontrunner in reporting polio cases as 43 children have been paralysed in the region. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has reported nine polio cases, Punjab six whereas Sindh has reported four cases during the current year.
In South and North Waziristan tribal regions, where the government signed peace accords with militant groups, the Taliban banned polio immunization two years ago as a mark of protest against US drone strikes.
The government and health department authorities have been unable to vaccinate the children from Fata against the crippling disease. A fake anti-polio campaign conducted by a Pakistani physician Dr Shakil Afridi in May 2011 in Abbottabad to collect DNA samples of Osama bin Laden, which reportedly helped the CIA track him down, has caused irreversible loss to the immunization campaign in Pakistan.
Many people suspect polio vaccination to be an attempt by the government and foreign-funded organizations to make male children infertile.