LAHORE -  The National Institute of Health in Islamabad has confirmed Pakistan’s first polio case of year 2017 in Lodhran district.

This is the first polio case in the Punjab after 14 months. The Punjab remained polio-free in 2016 though the country reported 20 cases—eight each from Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and two each from Fata and Balochistan. In the Punjab, last case was reported from district Rahim Yar Khan in December 2015.

Four-month-old Ali Hassan, a resident of Chak 15 near Dunyapur, Lodhran, was reported with traumatic neuritis and the samples were sent to NIH in the first week of the ongoing month. The NIH confirmed yesterday that the ill-fated child was a victim of crippling virus.

A team of experts has set off for Lodhran to investigate further and identify weaknesses, if any.

Like most of the cases in the past, the four-month-old victim received four doses of oral polio vaccine (OPV), but failed to develop immunity against the virus. The fresh case has again raised the question whether improved vaccination coverage and multiple campaigns would be enough to achieve the goal of making Pakistan polio-free.

In most of the cases in the past, children fell victim to polio even after receiving seven plus OPV doses. Experts say the vaccine provides much-needed shield, but it is not a guarantee to protect children until and unless other preconditions are fulfilled. They say first four doses in routine immunisation are vital and these cannot be covered through multiple doses at a later stage. They urge focusing on maintaining cold chain from the warehouse to the doorsteps in far-flung areas.

“Malnutrition and co-morbidities like diarrhoea, dysentery and fever are major reasons behind children getting polio even after receiving multiple doses of vaccine. These children with weak immunity fail to produce antibodies (shield against polio) from the vaccine. As such they are not immune and can get polio if attacked by the virus”, said Dr Khurram Shehzad, paediatrician at Jinnah Hospital. He stressed the need of carrying extensive research to find out why children get polio even after multiple doses of OPV.

“Until proper research, there is a need of maintaining cold chain, improving diet and monitoring condition of children before and after administering polio vaccine. Vaccine is useless if administered to a child with bad stomach or if he/she vomits after getting the dose. Proper training of vaccinators is a key to achievement of desired results from vaccination,” he said.