South Asia

UN issues warning on Pakistan polio rates

Polio awareness campaign in Pakistan
Image caption It is hoped that 16.5 million children will be vaccinated before the end of next month

Pakistan has continued to see a rising numbers of polio cases since the beginning of 2011, the UN children's fund, Unicef, has said.

The agency says that 63 cases have been diagnosed so far, compared to 36 cases over the same period last year.

The bulk of the cases are in the province of Balochistan, which has reported 22 cases this year.

The UN says that Pakistan could be the "last polio reservoir worldwide" standing in the way of eradication.

"We must ensure access to all children as specified in the president's National Emergency Action Plan for Polio Eradication in Pakistan," Unicef South Asia Regional Director Daniel Toole said.

"We have a huge task ahead of us, and we must build on lessons learned and act now."

Mr Toole - who is in Pakistan to meet senior government and UN officials - has reiterated Unicef's "commitment to the eradication of polio" and emphasised the need urgently to improve the battle against the spread of the disease.

The UN says the virus circulated in five high-risk districts in Balochistan and has now spread to areas not previously infected for the past five years, including the country's tribal areas and the provinces of Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Unicef says eradicating polio from Pakistan depends on delivering oral polio vaccines to each and every child, including the most vulnerable and the hardest to reach.

"This massive undertaking can succeed, but only with the tireless efforts and commitment of the people of Pakistan," a Unicef statement said.

The next polio vaccination campaign will be held 19-21 September, targeting 16.5 million children in the districts at the highest risk.

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