Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistani health officials say a three-month-old boy is the latest victim of the polio virus, making him the 18th case reported in the country this year.
In a statement on Monday, the National Institute of Health said the child, from the North Waziristan district of the southern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, had been paralysed by disabilities induced by the Wild Poliovirus type 1 (WPV-1) disease.
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North Waziristan has reported 16 of the 18 polio cases in Pakistan this year, with the other two found in Lakki Marwat, also in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
While polio campaigns have largely managed to eradicate the virus across the world, Pakistan and Afghanistan remain the last two countries yet to be declared polio-free.
To be officially considered polio-free, a country must show an absence of wild poliovirus transmission for at least three consecutive years, according to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
Poliovirus found in Karachi
The discovery of yet another polio case follows the detection of wild poliovirus in a sewage sample taken in Pakistan’s largest city of Karachi last week.
Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho, health minister in Sindh province of which Karachi is the capital, told Al Jazeera that poliovirus samples have been found in several areas across the country despite an ongoing vaccination campaign.
“Every (environmental) sample that comes out positive is considered a case as it is possible that the virus is circulating within the community,” she said.
“Unless the environment samples are negative and the campaign quality improves, we will keep seeing the spread of polio in other provinces of Pakistan … unfortunately now we are back to square one, and we have to work as hard as we did before to ensure the removal of poliovirus,” Pechuho added.
Health officials confirmed to Al Jazeera that at least 22 virus samples were detected in 10 districts, including the capital Islamabad and the city of Lahore.
Detection of the poliovirus does not indicate community transmission but signifies that unvaccinated or under-immunised children carrying the virus travelled outside an area where the virus was in circulation, the officials said.
Dr Shahzad Baig, coordinator of the National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC), which oversees Pakistan’s polio eradication programme, told Al Jazeera the detection of the virus in Karachi was not unexpected.
“All our polio cases this year have been reported from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, and it was only a matter of time before the virus reached the city,” he said, adding that it was crucial to ensure the disease does not establish a foothold in Karachi.
Pakistan is already facing a grave health crisis after catastrophic floods submerged nearly a third of the country this monsoon season.
“Millions of people were displaced due to floods and moved to urban centres for refuge. The current circumstances, in addition to the high transmission season for the poliovirus, sharply escalates the risk of the spread of the wild poliovirus,” Baig said.
He said the southern areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which was hit hard in the floods, remain the focus of Pakistan’s polio eradication programme.