Saturday August 17, 2019

Detection of a rare strain of Polio in Pakistan’s Balochistan alarms authorities

A five-day response campaign across the provincial capital of Quetta has started in January

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FILE - A Pakistani health worker gives a polio vaccine to a child in Karachi, Pakistan, Dec. 1, 2016. Polio remains endemic in Pakistan after the Taliban banned vaccinations, instigated attacks targeting medical staffers and spread suspicions about the vaccine. VOA

Detection of a rare strain of polio in Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan province has alarmed authorities and prompted them to launch special immunisation campaigns for children younger than 5.

After concluding a five-day response campaign across the provincial capital of Quetta earlier this month, health officials said they plan to give anti-polio drops starting January 16 to millions of children across 27 districts of the province, including those near the Afghan border.

The new, intensified immunization effort follows detection of the rare Type 2 strain of polio, which the World Health Organization found in sewage samples in one of the districts in the province.

Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are the only three countries in the world where the crippling virus is still active.

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Remarkable progress

Despite security challenges and administrative weaknesses in national immunization efforts, Pakistan’s anti-polio fight achieved remarkable progress in 2015 when the country of about 200 million reported only 19 cases, down from a record of 309 cases in 2014.

Aftab Kakar of the provincial emergency operation center in Quetta says that Type 2 polio struck about 15 children three years ago in the Killa Abdullah district toward the Afghan border.

But routine immunization campaigns coupled with special response efforts at the time stopped the transmission of the virus until WHO’s findings released a couple of weeks ago confirmed its re-emergence in Baluchistan, where only one polio case was reported in 2016, Kakar said.

“The international community has shown its concern over the detection of this (Type 2) virus in Pakistan because the rest of the world has eliminated it and reported no new cases for years,” he noted.

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Type 2 virus

Pakistan stopped vaccinating children against the Type 2 polio during routine immunization campaigns since last April, believing the strain had been successfully eliminated from the country as in the rest of the world, Kakar said.

“Now, our major concern and fear is that the group of children who were born after April 2016 are not immunized against Type 2 poliovirus. That group is now vulnerable and is in danger of contracting the virus,” he warned.

On Wednesday, provincial health officials reported the first polio case of the new year in Killa Abdullah, but the strain of the virus was not known immediately.

Border campaign

Baluchistan shares a nearly 1,200-kilometer border with Afghanistan and as many as 20,000 people move across the main Chaman border crossing everyday, where special vaccinating teams are deployed to ensure children moving in both directions are given anti-polio drops.

Col. Changez Zeb, in charge of Pakistani border forces, explained the anti-polio operation to VOA during a visit to the busy crossing point.

“This is the sign of the polio vaccination,” he said while pointing to the inked fingers of three young Afghan children driven in an improvised cart by their parents after receiving the medicine. “The polio team has given them the vaccination while entering and while exiting from Pakistan. They have three to four teams here. If one of them misses (the children) the other one catches them.”

Pakistani authorities insist that successes against polio is the outcome of national immunization efforts coupled with recruiting hundreds of thousands of influential Muslim clerics to persuade parents in remote, relatively conservative districts who used to resist the vaccination drops for their children because of religious beliefs or suspicions it would hurt fertility.

The refusals and militant threats to vaccinating teams undermined anti-polio drives in recent years. But Kakar says that refusals have lately dropped from thousands to hundreds, while improved security in Baluchistan has also played a key role in conducting effective immunization campaigns.

Extremist groups view anti-polio campaigns as a cover for Western spies, prompting deadly attacks on vaccinators during immunization campaigns across Pakistan. A bomb explosion in January 2016 killed 15 people outside a vaccination center in Quetta. The anti-state Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the bloodshed.

Opposition is also blamed on a fake CIA-sponsored immunization campaign that led to the famous May 2011 covert American military raid against fugitive al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad, killing the world’s most wanted man. (VOA)

Next Story

Children with Mild Asthma can Effectively Manage Condition by Using Two Inhalers

Patients in the group that used both inhalers as needed used about one-fourth the steroid dose of the group that inhaled a prescribed daily amount

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Children, Mild, Asthma
The steroid inhaler lowers inflammation and the bronchodilator, also known as a rescue inhaler, relaxes the airway during an asthma attack to quickly make breathing easier, according to the study published. Pixabay

Researchers have found that children with mild asthma can effectively manage the condition by using their two inhalers — one a steroid and the other a bronchodilator — when symptoms occur.

The steroid inhaler lowers inflammation and the bronchodilator, also known as a rescue inhaler, relaxes the airway during an asthma attack to quickly make breathing easier, according to the study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice.

“Patients in the group that used both inhalers as needed used about one-fourth the steroid dose of the group that inhaled a prescribed daily amount. We also were pleased to see that the patients and families felt that they had more ownership over their asthma management when practicing as-needed treatment,” said study first author Kaharu Sumino, Associate Professor at the Washington University.

The researchers found that this approach reduced the amount of steroid medication the children took monthly by almost 75 per cent.

Children, Mild, Asthma
Researchers have found that children with mild asthma can effectively manage the condition by using their two inhalers — one a steroid and the other a bronchodilator — when symptoms occur. Pixabay

The study included 206 African American children six to 17 years of age with mild asthma that was adequately controlled with asthma controller steroid medication. The patients were randomly assigned to one of two groups.

Each participant in one group was advised to take a dose from an inhaler containing the steroid beclomethasone as needed when symptoms arose, along with the rescue bronchodilator albuterol.

Each participant in the second group was advised to take a specific inhaled dose of the steroid beclomethasone daily, regardless of symptoms, plus the rescue bronchodilator as needed in response to symptoms.oo

At the end of the one-year study, the researchers found no differences between groups in surveys of how well the patients’ asthma was controlled, as well as no differences in breathing tests that measure lung function.

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However, the group taking daily beclomethasone, an inhaled corticosteroid, used more of the medication per month than those in the symptom-based group.

On average, children in the daily-use group used 1,961 micrograms per month, while the symptom-based group used 526 micrograms per month, cutting the amount of this medication by almost three-fourths. The reduced amount is desirable, according to the investigators, because steroids have side effects that include stunted growth. (IANS)