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Polio Paralyzes Pakistani Toddler, Setting Back Eradication Hopes

Newly elected Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif will preside over the polio-eradication task force's emergency meeting on April 25. (file photo)

Health officials in Pakistan have announced the first new wild polio infection in that country in over a year, prompting newly elected Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to convene an emergency meeting of the national task force fighting the disease.

Authorities said a 15-month-old boy was paralyzed by the highly infectious virus in the northwestern district of North Waziristan.

It is the first confirmed new infection in 15 months in Pakistan, according to Shahzad Baig, a coordinator with the National Emergency Operations Center for Pakistan's polio-eradication program.

Baig said he was "deeply saddened" by the case.

Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan are the only two countries in the world still listed as "affected" by the wild poliovirus, which is otherwise classified as eradicated by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Eradication efforts in both countries are hampered by local skepticism and deadly militant attacks on eradication teams, especially in rural areas.

Pakistan had never gone as long as a year without a new detection since eradication efforts began decades ago.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative lists the North Waziristan case as this year's third new infection, following another in Afghanistan and one in Malawi, in southeastern Africa.

Sharif's office said he'd preside over the polio-eradication task force's emergency meeting on April 25.

Based on reporting by AFP