Afghanistan, Pakistan see surge in polio cases amid coronavirus pandemic

They are the only countries to report new polio cases, health officials say

Afghanistan and Pakistan have seen a resurgence of polio while struggling to contain the coronavirus pandemic, according to reports.

The nations are the only countries in the world with new cases of polio, after the World Health Organization declared Africa free of the disease.

Production of the polio vaccine was halted in March to limit the risk of transmitting COVID-19 between children, parents and health workers, Radio Free Europe reported. Vaccination campaigns resumed in Afghanistan in July, but the country has seen a surge in polio cases during the time production of the vaccine had halted.

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“These life-saving vaccinations are critical if children are to avoid yet another health emergency,” said Jean Gough, UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia. “As the world has come to see only too well, viruses know no borders and no child is safe from polio until every child is safe.”

FILE - In this April 21, 2016 file photo, a Pakistani health worker gives a polio vaccine to a girl during a campaign in Karachi, Pakistan. For the first time in Pakistan's history all the previous month's environmental samples for polio have tested negative, a sign of progress in the campaign to eradicate the virus, an official said Monday, May 30, 2016. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan, File)

FILE - In this April 21, 2016 file photo, a Pakistani health worker gives a polio vaccine to a girl during a campaign in Karachi, Pakistan. For the first time in Pakistan's history all the previous month's environmental samples for polio have tested negative, a sign of progress in the campaign to eradicate the virus, an official said Monday, May 30, 2016. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan, File)

Children under 5 are particularly vulnerable to the disease, which can lead to deformed limbs, paralysis and even death.

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The Afghan Health Ministry has recorded 40 cases this year, with some new cases in areas previously free of the virus. Pakistan has recored 63 cases, The New Arab reported.

“Ongoing conflict and political instability make it difficult to access hard-to-reach areas, and migration along the porous and rugged border between Afghanistan and Pakistan further complicates vaccination efforts, making children on both sides vulnerable to contracting the debilitating disease,” according to UNICEF.

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The coronavirus pandemic played havoc in the region, with Afghanistan recording around 48,000 positive cases and around 1,400 deaths, though testing remains difficult in the war-torn region and the true extent remains unknown.

Pakistan, meanwhile, has recorded over 300,000 positive cases of the virus, with over 6,200 deaths.