–PM’s former focal person Babar Atta calls Guardian report ‘baseless’
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led federal government has been accused of covering up an outbreak of the most dangerous type of poliovirus, which resulted in the paralysis of 12 children in Diamer and Islamabad.
According to a report in The Guardian, an official of the polio eradication programme in Pakistan claimed that “a dozen children have been infected with the P2 strain of polio”.
It added that the coordinator of the national emergency operation centre of the programme “Dr Malik Safi, confirmed the P2 outbreak, but would not give any further comment”.
The Guardian report goes on to say that Babar bin Atta, the former focal person to the prime minister on polio eradication, ordered the cover-up from the government and international donor organisations.
In a series of tweets on Thursday and Friday, Atta has dubbed The Guardian report “baseless” and said he is writing to the publication to correct the record and issue an apology.
“The Guardian has completely mixed cVDPVs with Wild P2 strain. They should have contacted me for a version, I would’ve educated them,” Atta said in a tweet.
cVDPV, or the circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus, is a mutated form of the poliovirus that spreads in under-immunised areas after the vaccine virus is excreted and ends up in the environment, according to the WHO.
For cases of paralysis to occur, the mutated virus needs to have been circulating in vulnerable populations for at least 12 months. The WHO and Global Polio Eradication Initiative list gaps in routine and supplementary immunisation campaigns as the main causes behind the spread of cVDPV.
Zafar Mirza, the state minister of health, has also said there has been “absolutely no cover-up.” He said the outbreak referred to a Sabin-Like Type 2 Derived virus outbreak and the government has the situation under control.
“The Pakistan polio programme has detected transmission of Sabin-Like Type 2 Derived (SLT2D) poliovirus through its disease surveillance system. The virus has caused seven cases of paralysis in recent months, mainly in the northern parts of the country.
“Outbreaks of polio occur where a large number of children are under-immunised,” reads an official statement on Pakistan’s Polio Eradication Programme’s website.
It also adds that similar outbreaks have been reported in the Philippines, China, Indonesia, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo and countries in Africa due to gaps in immunisation coverage.