ISLAMABAD, Oct. 24 (UPI) -- As new cases of polio emerged in Pakistan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said Friday the government would battle the infectious disease.
His comments came in an event in Islamabad marking World Polio Day.
Pakistani health officials said 202 cases of polio have been found this year, a figure four times higher than in 2013. The World Health Organization counted 217 cases in Pakistan in 2014, noting political extremism in the country, as well as lack of access to anti-polio vaccinations, are having a negative effect on detection and treatment. Polio remains endemic in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. "The Prime Minister's Office has adopted a polio eradication initiative for monitoring and reviewing progress on the issue. A Prime Minister's focus group for polio emergency had also been constituted to hold monthly meetings to assess the performance of the eradication program," Sharif said at the event.
The polio virus typically affects children under age five, and is spread through contaminated food and water. It can result in permanent paralysis and death.
Analysts say actions by anti-government groups, such as the Pakistani Taliban, have slowed vaccinations and helped spread the disease. In 2012, the Taliban banned vaccinations in territory it controlled, claiming the government campaign was similar to a hepatitis vaccination program run by a doctor who allegedly aided the CIA in helping find Osama bin Laden. They add failure to stop polio could be devastating to Pakistan's already weak economy.
"If the polio virus spreads in the country, Pakistanis will be barred from travelling to other countries," activist Sikandar Januja told the German newspaper Deutsche Welle.