Authorities in Pakistan have confirmed the first case of wild polio virus in more than a year, dealing a setback to the country’s progress against the highly infectious disease.
A 15-month-old boy was paralyzed by the virus in the turbulent North Waziristan district, which borders Afghanistan, according to an official announcement Friday.
“This is, of course, a tragedy for the child and his family and it is also very unfortunate both for Pakistan and polio eradication efforts all over the world,” said Aamir Ashraf, a top health ministry official in Islamabad. “We are disappointed but not deterred.”
Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan are the only two countries where polio continues to paralyze children, although case numbers in recent years have significantly dropped on both sides of the border.
The last time a child was paralyzed in Pakistan was in January 2021. There is one wild polio virus infection reported in Afghanistan this year and four in 2021.
Ashraf said health officials are conducting a thorough investigation into the detection of the polio case, and emergency immunization campaigns are underway to prevent further spread of the virus in the country of about 220 million people.
Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s office said he will chair an emergency meeting Monday of a national task force for polio eradication to review eradication efforts.
Polio crippled approximately 20,000 Pakistani children a year in the early 1990s.
The latest case in Pakistan has raised to three the global number of polio infections in 2022, including one in Malawi, according to data from the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI).
The GPEI confirmed in February that Malawi had detected a case of type 1 wild poliovirus (WPV1) in a 3-year-old child suffering from paralysis in Lilongwe. It noted that the virus was “genetically linked to WPV1 that was detected in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province in 2019.
The detection does not affect the World Health Organization African Region’s wild poliovirus-free certification status officially marked in August 2020, according to the GPEI.