PAKISTAN – Wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1) has resurfaced in sewage samples retrieved from two districts in Balochistan and one in Sindh, marking a setback in Pakistan’s ongoing battle against the crippling disease. 

The revelation by the Regional Reference Lab for Polio Eradication at the National Institute of Health highlights the persistent challenges faced in maintaining polio-free status within the nation.

The alarming discovery was made in sewage samples gathered between May 6 and 7 from Quetta, Chaman, and Hyderabad. 

Upon analysis, these samples yielded traces of WPV1, which is genetically linked to the YB3A genetic cluster and was previously eradicated from Pakistan in 2021. 

However, its continued prevalence in neighboring Afghanistan facilitated its reintroduction through cross-border transmission last year. 

All confirmed cases this year, including two polio cases, have been traced back to this strain.

With the recent detection, the tally of districts harboring WPV1 this year has risen to 38, signifying a concerning expansion of the virus’s reach. 

The Pakistan Polio Programme has intensified its efforts, conducting four vaccination campaigns thus far, with two nationwide initiatives in January and February alone. Collectively, these campaigns immunized over 43 million children under the age of five. 

The Pakistan Polio Programme has scheduled the next campaign for the first week of June as a preemptive measure ahead of the forthcoming Eid travel season.

The consistent presence of WPV1 in certain locales further accentuates the gravity of the situation.

In Hyderabad, samples collected from the Tulsidas Pumping Station revealed persistent contamination, with consecutive positive results. 

Similarly, the Chaman district reported its ninth positive sample this year, retrieved from the Army Kaziba site. 

Meanwhile, the Railway Pul site in Quetta marked its 18th positive sample of the year, indicative of entrenched viral circulation in these areas.

The resurgence of WPV1 deepens the criticality of sustained vaccination efforts. 

Polio, a highly infectious disease primarily affecting children under five, poses severe health risks, including paralysis and death. 

While a cure remains elusive, vaccination is the most effective defense mechanism. 

Each vaccination incrementally bolsters a child’s immunity against the virus, mitigating the risk of transmission. 

While numerous nations have achieved polio-free status, the endemic status of Pakistan and Afghanistan emphasizes the urgency of sustained efforts to safeguard vulnerable populations and ensure a polio-free future for all.

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