ISLAMABAD - Not only terror, polio has also become a potential and constant threat to counties neighbouring Pakistan. Rise in the number of cases of the deadly virus in the country is feared spreading to India and China sooner or later if immediate steps are not taken with unprecedented sense of urgency. Many international organisations, particularly the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF), have been highlighting the issue, but India and China too have felt alarmed recently, taking it as a potential threat which Pakistan offers to them apart from the menace of terrorism.
According to the WHO, Pakistan has become a “hotbed” of the deadly strain of polio which threatens to spread globally if not checked.
The UNICEF too said recently that Pakistan could potentially be the last polio reservoir worldwide standing in the way of global polio eradication, unless progress was accelerated. According to the WHO, Pakistan is affected by nationwide transmission of WPV1, and is the location of the only wild poliovirus type 3 (WPV3) case in Asia in 2011. Polio cases in Pakistan have continued to increase since the beginning of the current year and total polio cases in the country were 36 in 2010, which now stand at 63. In Balochistan alone, around 22 new polio cases have been reported. According to reports, polio virus has infected many areas of the country which were immune in the past.
The WHO said that the deadly strain of polio has spread to China from Pakistan and travellers to and from Pakistan should be fully protected by vaccination. The WHO also warned countries ahead of the Haj season. “Wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1) genetically linked to virus currently circulating in Pakistan has been isolated in China,” the WHO said. Chinese news agency Xinhua also reported in August that four infants in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region had been diagnosed with polio which had a 99 percent resemblance with the wild poliovirus found in Pakistan.
India too perceives the threat and fears that importations of the virus from Pakistan could in crease polio cases there. India is among the four countries, apart from Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan, where polio still thrives. The Hindustan Times warned of the same on November 26, saying, “These unwanted importations have become India’s biggest worry this year, with its two large neighbours, China and Pakistan, reporting an increase in polio cases this year. After remaining polio-free in 2010, China has had 18 cases, the last one on September 11 this year. The real worry is Pakistan, with rapid increase in cases, where the virus has spread from its three strongholds in Karachi, Quetta and the northwest tribal areas.” Though Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani launched the anti-polio campaign and made a commitment to eradicate polio from the country, the programme needs constant monitoring and result-oriented strategy to combat the disease. Pakistan has to address the problem with unprecedented sense of urgency in close collaboration with international humanitarian organisations to secure the country and the region from the crippling disease.