“Our fears have now turned into reality,” said the head of the World Health Organisation’s Polio Eradication Initiative, as 10 new cases of the crippling virus were reported in North Waziristan on Tuesday.
The new cases bring the total number of confirmed cases to an appalling 25 from the tribal agency alone.
After 15 months of a self-imposed ban announced by the Taliban warlord Hafiz Gulbahadur in North Waziristan, 82 per cent of the reported cases were children below the age of one, according to Dr Elyas Durry.
“It is a clear manifestation of what is about to hit us in the future if an immunisation campaign does not start soon,” he said.
The age of the children affected proves that those born after the ban have been direly affected. The point of concern for the WHO polio programme is to contain the virus, which is an impossible feat because of the conflict that surrounds the region.
The fresh cases are concentrated in the administrative units of Mir Ali and Miramshah. Six cases have been reported from the villages of Haider Khel, Saidgi, Khushali, Tappi, Eidak and Sheratala villages in Mirali, while the remaining four cases from the villages of Darpakhel, Spulgay and Smalkhel in Miramshah.
Laboratory samples reveal that six of the cases are those of the P1wild poliovirus strain, while the majority of them are like the Sabin-strain. “The cause of the viruses spreading is the lack of consistent inoculation,” said an official.
The first polio case for North Waziristan was reported in May this year in the wake of the Taliban ban, and they have continued to spiral ever since.
In August, 14 cases were reported from the agency in a single day, while thousands of others are feared to be at risk.
Aid workers, being a consistent terrorism target, along with the drone strikes in the agency as well as the US Abbottabad raid in which Osama bin Laden was killed, have been major setbacks for the polio eradication campaigns.
Pakistan is among those countries that have never been able to halt the spread of the virus.
Polio eradication teams in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa have now asked the paramilitary Frontier Corps to escort them during campaigns. In areas like Swabi, immunisation teams are now allowed to carry weapons for self-protection.
The Federally Administered Tribal Areas and particularly North Waziristan nevertheless remain inaccessible to polio vaccination campaigns.
Every single child infected in the area puts about 200 to 1,000 children at risk, explains Dr Durry. “Not every child is paralysed if infected, but he or she is a potential carrier.”
More cases have been reported from as far as Frontier Region Bannu and Dera Ismail Khan.