Pakistan is on the verge of being polio-free after recording the fewest cases this year in more than a decade, health officials said Friday.
The health ministry said 21 cases of the crippling disease had been identified this year, down from 40 in 2006 and the lowest number since 1994. It said more than 80 percent of the country now had no incidence of polio.
"Pakistan is very close to becoming the next polio-free country," Melissa Corkum, the communications officer for the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), told AFP.
But there are worries about children moving back and forth across the border between rugged tribal areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, where many locals say polio vaccinations are actually aimed at reducing Muslim populations.
The latest polio case recorded in Pakistan came last week in a tribal district along the border.
"We don't want children travelling in and out of Afghanistan and Pakistan on a daily basis to carry the virus from one place to other," Corkum said.
Health officials said more than 14 million children in 44 districts of Pakistan were vaccinated this week in the final round of this year's immunisation campaign.
Corkum said the success of polio eradication efforts in tribal areas relied on regular contact with tribal elders to convince them to get their children vaccinated against the disease.
Pakistan is one of four countries where polio, sometimes called infantile paralysis, is still endemic. The others are Afghanistan, India and Nigeria.
The number of annual infections in the country in the 1990s was between 20,000 and 30,000. According to the UN's World Health Organisation, there have been around 820 documented cases worldwide this year.