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Pakistan reported its first case of polio in 2023 after a three-year-old boy in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's Bannu district became the latest victim of the crippling disease, according to a media report on Saturday. The case was reported as delegations from the French Development Agency (FAD) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) are in the cash-strapped country to analyze efforts to eradicate the disease, according to reports.
The Ministry of Health said on Friday that FAD and BMGF delegations met with Federal Health Minister Abdul Qadir Patel to discuss opportunities for cooperation in social protection and health with a focus on polio eradication. Head of the National Polio Emergency Operations Center (NEOC), Dr. Shahzad Baig, said that an investigation is underway to find out whether the child was vaccinated or the parents refused to vaccinate.
"However, it is clear that the child was not fully protected and that is why the boy was infected with the virus," said Dr. Baig. He said it was the first case this year to be reported after five months. Health authorities issued the warning against the backdrop of expected movement from tribal areas to urban areas in Ramazan and Eid. Authorities are now planning vaccination drives in tribal areas from April 10 as security personnel are currently involved in the digital census.
The NEOC chief said there are seven districts in South Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP), including Dera Ismail Khan, Lakki Marwat, Tank, Bannu, South Waziristan and North Waziristan, where the virus is prevalent. "[These areas] need to be strongly targeted in the vaccination campaign." The region was the epicenter of the virus in 2022, with all 20 cases reported from districts in southern KP. Of these, 17 were from North Waziristan, two from Lakki Marwat and one from South Waziristan. While the anti-polio campaign was underway in Sindh, Punjab and Islamabad in March, the drive could not be launched in KP and Balochistan as security personnel were busy with census duties.
BMGF is one of the largest contributors supporting Pakistan's efforts to end the virus. The visits aim to identify Pakistan's needs and understand areas of support in light of the 2022 floods that left more than 33 million people in need of assistance. During a meeting on polio eradication, Health Minister Patel said that the infrastructure of health services has been severely damaged in many districts due to the floods.
"Thousands of people have lost their homes and livelihoods, which has put a significant strain on social protection mechanisms. We are still recovering, but despite these most difficult times, Pakistan has not relaxed its focus on polio eradication,” Patel said in a statement from the Ministry of Health. The Gates Foundation delegation was led by Jay Wenger, global leader for polio eradication, while the FAD delegation was led by Agnes Soucat, director of health and social protection.
The delegation noted the progress made by Pakistan in 2022 and hoped that the virus, confined to seven districts, would soon be eradicated. "Thanks to the generous support of the international community, Pakistan is aggressively fighting polio," the health minister said. Earlier this year in January, environmental samples from Lahore - the second largest city after Karachi - tested positive for the polio virus, prompting authorities to launch a vaccination campaign in the city's 26 union councils, a Dawn report said.