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Polio Virus Subtype Possibly Eliminated in Pakistan

No new reports of type 3 polio virus have been made in the country in six months.

Polio eradication commemorative stamp-- by Jenara Nerenberg

The Gist

Polio is a crippling disease caused by a virus that is currently only found in Pakistan, Nigeria, and Afghanistan. Pakistan is now reporting that one of the virus subtypes, type 3, may actually be eliminated from the country, as no new reports of it have been filed in the past six months. The research being released this week at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene's (ASTMH) annual meeting is a follow-up on earlier findings that the virus is still a problem in Pakistan due to certain false beliefs and misinformed attitudes toward vaccination that still hold among the country's hard-to-reach communities, such as nomadic groups. Fear of sterility and HIV infection are two examples. As such, this latest report is a boon to the worldwide effort to eradicate the disease, a movement which has financial backing from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the United Nations, among others. 

The Expert Take

"I think 2014 is realistic for Pakistan if we can tackle the persistent reservoirs," study author Anita Zaidi told Healthline regarding a possible timeframe for polio to be eradicated from the country.

"Efforts should focus on building trust through grassroots efforts using community elders in populations with high vaccine refusal rates," said Zaidi. "By providing vaccination at mass transit sites such as bus routes used to travel up-country throughout the year, we can at least isolate the viral reservoirs and make sure we avoid what happened last year, which was exporting the virus to China."

According to Zaidi's research, the barriers to vaccination and elimination stem largely from negative beliefs and attitudes and as such require a community-based approach to change people's mindsets. By using community influencers, those at risk may be more likely to accept polio vaccination.

Source and Method

Zaidi's research focused on high-risk communities in the bustling city of Karachi, and found that 74 percent of missed vaccinations were due to parents refusing immunizations for their children. Research also shows that no reports of type 3 polio virus have been made in the last 6 months, which is the longest gap to date. Additionally, India has had no reports of the disease since January of 2011. 

The Takeaway

Those in Pakistan should be especially mindful about getting their children vaccinated for polio, but those in Nigeria and Afghanistan are also at risk. Nowhere else is the virus found, and worldwide elimination of the disease is in sight.

Other Research

Previous studies have extensively documented the progress of the fight to eradicate polio worldwide. A 2004 WHO report indicates that certification remains essential—that is, certification of regions that are truly polio-free and maintaining such status, certifying lab containment procedures, and more. A 2002 study from the American Journal of Public Health notes that polio eradication has a positive impact on other aspects of worldwide health systems, such as improved coordination of health workers and their communities, better distribution of vitamin supplementation, and other effects, all the while not taking away funding from other vaccine drives. And a 2006 article appearing in the New England Journal of Medicine chronicles the unique social challenges that stand in the way of polio eradication, much like the latest research from Pakistan.
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Tags: Awareness , Global Health , Latest Studies & Research , Public Health & Policy

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The Healthline Editorial team writes about the latest health news, policy, and research.