Polio outbreak hits Pakistan province

A previously unknown strain of polio found in two districts of Pakistan's Balochistan province prompted recent requests to launch a polio vaccination campaign within 30 days.

Health officials reported 10 new cases of Sabin-like type 2 poliovirus in the Qilla Abdullah and Pishin districts. The outbreak is made more troubling by the presence of groups in the area that are against the anti-polio movement, Dawn reports.

"The districts are frequented by people from the troubled areas of Fata," Zohra Yusuf, the chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said, according to Dawn. "The situation is grim because of refusal by parents to get their children vaccinated against the crippling disease as the areas are under the influence of extremist groups opposed to the anti-polio drive. The extremists belonging to Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan have established their cells in Balochistan and warn people against vaccination of their children."

Yusuf said an HRCP visited the two districts in May and found that people coming from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and other tribal areas likely brought the virus with them.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Office expressed concern over the low levels of immunization in the province and called for urgent steps to institute routine immunization in Qilla Abdullah on an emergency basis.

"Stubbornness of the provincial health department and government supervisors for polio eradication in Balochistan is one of the biggest reasons behind dismal performance of the polio program that has resulted in detection of new strain of poliovirus in Pakistan and threatens to impose travel restrictions on citizens that may put the country in an extremely embarrassing situation in the near future," the office said, according to Dawn.

The provincial health department said that it planned to conduct three rounds of vaccinations on December 10, December 23 and January 7.