The World Health Organization has declared the Pakistani city of Peshawar, the world's "largest reservoir" of endemic poliovirus. And WHO officials fear Pakistanis could face travel restrictions unless steps are taken immediately to stop the disease from spreading. Researchers studied all the cases of poliomyelitis in Pakistan last year. They found that almost every case could be linked genetically to the poliovirus often reported in Peshawar.
Polio mainly affects children under five years of age. The virus is passed through food or water. The virus reproduces in the body, and later invades the nervous system. The disease can sometimes lead to paralysis, with loss of muscle control in part of the body. The WHO study found that 90 percent of Pakistan's polio cases could be linked to the virus in Peshawar. In addition, 12 of the 13 polio cases in Afghanistan were also linked to the city.
Elias Durry serves as the WHO's emergency coordinator for polio in Pakistan. He says local officials need to take urgent action to strengthen vaccination campaigns. He says the situation in Peshawar not only threatens the gains Pakistan has made against polio. And he warned it could also harm international efforts to stop the disease. He also noted an increase in attacks on vaccination campaign workers in Peshawar and other areas.
Taliban militants often attack polio workers in Pakistan. The militants accuse them of being American spies or part of a plot to keep Muslims from having babies. Most of the attacks have taken place in Peshawar. The city is close to Pakistan's tribal districts. Extremist groups have bases in those areas.