The World Health Organization (WHO) expressed serious concern over the dramatic acceleration of polio cases in Pakistan. In a statement, the WHO said it is “gravely concerned” by the further increase in wild poliovirus 1 cases in Nigeria and Afghanistan, but is especially concerned for Pakistan.
The statement was issued after the 21st meeting of the Emergency Committee held at WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. “In Pakistan, transmission continues to be widespread, as indicated by the number of positive environmental isolates in many areas of the country, and the proportion of samples that detect WPV1 is rising,” it further said.
So far, 20 polio cases have been reported in different parts of Pakistan since the beginning of 2019. The polio eradication program is “no longer on track,” the WHO said, citing the recent elections and political transition in the country as the potential factor.
“While the committee understood that the recent elections and political transition may have adversely affected the delivery of the polio program, it is now essential that the new government renews its efforts,” the statement explained.
Meanwhile, Pakistan was prompt in its response to the WHO statement. “The WHO-IRH recommendations made no mention of what all countries are facing as anti-vaxx movement that has caused many outbreaks in the most aware cities of the world including NYC,” Babar Atta, the head of polio eradication program, tweeted.
“While Pakistan will implement all points there could have been, some appreciation for being the only country in the world that has not only taken anti-Vaxxers head-on with full force but many of them are behind bars¤tly facing the law,” he added.
Pakistan is among three countries in the world, including Afghanistan and Nigeria, where polio still exists and the country remains under a polio-linked travel restriction imposed by the WHO.
In 2014, the WHO made it mandatory for all people travelling from Pakistan to carry a polio vaccination certificate. Armed assailants belonging to militant groups have frequently targeted polio vaccinators in several parts of Pakistan.
The attackers link anti-polio campaigns to anti-Muslim conspiracies and often issue death threats to vaccinators for administrating the vital shots to children. According to Pakistani officials, around 90 people associated with the drive have been killed across Pakistan since December 2012.
Polio Threat in Afghanistan, Nigeria
The WHO also expressed concern for the situation in Afghanistan and said the critical issue of access to citizens is seriously hampering progress in the war-weary country towards global eradication.
“Inaccessible and missed children, particularly in the southern region, mean there is a large cohort of susceptible children in Afghanistan,” it said. Environmental surveillance has found an increased proportion of positive samples in 2019. The security situation and access will need to significantly improve the eradication efforts, the WHO suggested.
However, the statement said that there has been no wild poliovirus 1 detected for over two and a half years in Nigeria, and it is possible that the African Region may be certified WPV free in early 2020.