By jawihir

Agencies are hopeful that a common strain of polio virus has been eradicated.

The last child to be paralyzed by P3 polio virus was reported in Khyber Agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Pakistan, on April 18, 2012. Globally, only one case of P3 strain has been reported worldwide in the past six months, in Nigeria. This is the lowest number of P3 polio cases ever reported.

It is the second of three polio virus strains to be eliminated from the world through the efforts of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. The first virus strain to be wiped out was P2 that existed till 1999.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has termed the development a landmark for polio eradication in Pakistan, a country where nine polio workers were killed in 2012 alone, dubbing them Western spies. "It is an important milestone for the polio eradication in Pakistan," says Dr. Ni'ma Saeed Abid, Team Leader of WHO-Pakistan.

Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are the only three countries in the world where polio virus transmission has never ceased to exist. However, Pakistan has shown remarkable progress in polio eradication last year, where polio cases were reduced by 70 per cent as compared to 2011.

According to Dr. Abid, improved accountability of polio workers and strengthening of human resource capacity at the Union Council level led to the success of anti-polio efforts. "A year without a P3 case is clear evidence that polio eradication in Pakistan is technically and operationally feasible," the WHO official says.

However, the Taliban's opposition still remains a major challenge for polio eradication in Pakistan. Therefore, it may be too soon to conclude that P3 virus has been completely eradicated from the globe.

Taliban militants imposed a ban on polio vaccination campaigns in FATA in July 2012 in protest against drone attacks. Use of polio staff to gather DNA samples from Osama bin Laden compound in a CIA-led covert operation has also fueled suspicion about the immunization drive.

"Due to the ban on immunization by Taliban in North and South Waziristan, more than 200,000 children have not been vaccinated since July 2012," Dr. Abid says. It is the same region of the country where the last P3 cases were reported and the possibility of the virus going undetected in the hostile area cannot be ruled out.

Furthermore, vaccine refusal is another hurdle to the success of the polio eradication program. Polio Operations Room Bulletin reveals that only in the National Immunization Campaign conducted this month, more than 58,000 children could not be immunized due to parental refusal.

The security situation has also hampered the social mobilization activities for polio eradication.

UNICEF is supporting the Government to improve awareness regarding polio and to build trust in immunization. More than 1,100 social mobilization staff members are deployed in the high-risk districts; they go door to door to persuade reluctant parents.

Nevertheless, with the given challenges of security and mistrust in immunization, the agencies supporting the Government consider this latest advancement encouraging. It may be too soon to conclude that P3 virus has been completely eradicated from the globe, yet the current progress is another step towards a polio free world.

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