ISLAMABAD - Though Pakistan has made significant progress towards interruption of poliovirus during last 20 months, yet the country has not been able to get rid of the deadly disease.

Minister for National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination Saira Afzal Tarar in a written reply to the National Assembly explained that a country is declared to be polio-free, if during last one year, it has neither reported any case of wild poliovirus nor any virus is isolated from environmental samples collected from sewerage as well as healthy children from the high risk population.

She said Pakistan has made tremendous progress and no polio types 2 and 3 have been isolated since 1999 and 2012. The number of polio cases (WPV1) has also decreased significantly from over 20,000 per year in 1980 to only 15 in 2016, she added.  But there are many challenges, she said, Pakistan’s efforts for zero polio have been seriously hampered in the past because of inaccessibility to over 600,000 children in FATA as well as mega cities like Karachi and Peshawar due to militancy and the prevalent environment of insecurity, including direct attacks on our polio workers.

Attacks on polio workers were started from December 2012. After the launch of operation Zarb-e-Azb and through effective coordination and support of security agencies, the problem has now been resolved to a great extent, she added.

Resultantly, she said, after a huge upsurge of cases in 2014 (306 cases), the programme was able to reduce the number of reported cases to 54 in 2015 (82 per cent decline).

The momentum is being sustained in 2016 where only 15 cases have been reported from across the country till date. In 2015, during same duration, 39 cases were reported.

Similarly, the proportion of positive environmental samples has also decreased from 38 per cent in 2014 to 19 per cent in 2015 and 9 per cent in 2016 so far.

She said the virus has now been confined to small geographical areas in the last reservoirs of Karachi, Peshawar and Quetta block. Continued and concerted national efforts are however required to interrupt the poliovirus transmission within next few months by implementing the National Emergency Action Plan 2016-17 approved by the Prime Minister, the minister said.