Pakistan has registered its highest number of polio cases for 15 years. There have been 202 polio cases detected so far this year in Pakistan according to the health officials in the country. This is the highest figure in 15 years exceeding the previous record of 199 infections in 2001. Pakistan is one of the three places in the world, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria, where polio remains endemic. There are grave concerns amongst the international community that the virus could spread to other countries. However, eradication attempts in the country have been hindered by militants groups who have banned immunisations in Pakistan.
In a recent and extremely informative interview with Deutsche Welle, Sona Bari , the spokeswoman for polio eradication at the WHO,says that the lack of security is not the only reason for Pakistan’s apparent inability to eradicate the virus. According to her, although the militants and the climate of fear have definitely played a role in Pakistan’s failure to eradicate the disease, management and accountability failure on the part of authorities have also contributed to its prevalence.
Meanwhile, with Pakistan reporting the highest number of polio cases in the past 15 years, India has stepped up surveillance along the international border, particularly in Rajasthan, to check any spread of the infection. According to an article in The Hindu, Jodhpur and Barmer districts in Rajasthan are under heightened vigilance because of the Thar Link Express passing through here which ferries people between the two countries.
Most of the polio cases in Pakistan have been reported from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). These provinces account for 70 per cent of the global cases currently .Other than Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria, where polio is endemic, outbreaks have been reported from Syria, Somalia, Iraq and several African countries in the recent years. However, for India, the risk of transmission of polio is more from Pakistan because of cross-border population movement — both legal and illegal.
“We are already administering polio drops to people who go to or come from Pakistan, irrespective of their age, as is mandated by the Centre for all international borders. But Jodhpur and Barmer are high risk districts because of the movement of people from across the border,” Narendra Saxena, Chief Medical and Health Officer of Jodhpur, told The Hindu.