Pakistan, Afghanistan face challenges in vaccinating children against polio

While Pakistan and Afghanistan saw a decrease in wild poliovirus cases in 2013, both countries face major challenges in reaching unvaccinated children, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Thursday.

According to the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, both Pakistan and Afghanistan experienced an overall decrease in WPV cases from January to September, when compared to the same time period in 2012. Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria are the only three remaining countries in which polio is still endemic.

The report noted the challenges Pakistan and Afghanistan face in the battle against polio. Pakistan is seeing polio increases in conflict-affected tribal areas, where there is a ban on polio vaccination. Afghanistan is battling a polio outbreak in its eastern region.

The report said strong ongoing global efforts are needed to eradicate polio and prevent it from spreading to other countries.

"Although there have been setbacks, we are making progress towards global polio eradication," Tom Frieden, the director of the CDC, said. "There is encouraging progress in Afghanistan, but, as long as transmission is uninterrupted in Pakistan and Nigeria, the risk for spread to other countries continues because polio anywhere presents a threat of polio everywhere."

Afghanistan experienced 26 cases of polio between January 2012 and September 2012. The number of cases dropped to just eight during the same period in 2013. All eight cases occurred in Afghanistan's eastern region and originated from the WPV in Pakistan.

Pakistan experienced 54 cases of polio between January 2012 and September 2012. The number decreased to 52 cases in 2013, but because of additional cases since September, the country is now ahead of its 2012 polio numbers.

Approximately 350,000 children in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas did not receive polio vaccines during immunization campaigns conducted since the middle of 2012, according to the report.