Peshawar major concern in anti-polio campaign

Report
from DAWN Group of Newspapers
Published on 03 Apr 2013 View Original

PESHAWAR: The World Health Organisation has declared Peshawar a major hurdle to the country’s polio eradication programme and called for effective vaccination campaigns to reach targeted children.

Dr Elias Durry, head of WHO in Pakistan, told Dawn on Tuesday that Peshawar, where P1 virus was consistently in circulation, had been declared ‘red high-risk’ district for polio as 70,000 children remained unimmunised in the first quarter of the current year.

He said more than 2, 25,000 children of immunisable age remained unvaccinated in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which had recorded three of the total five cases detected in the country this year so far.

“WHO is deeply concerned about the poor progress of polio campaigns in Peshawar, which is a major obstacle to polio eradication programme in the country. It poses a threat to other children’s health,” he said.

The WHO country head said vaccination was the only way to protect children from being crippled and that every child under five must be given oral polio vaccine in every campaign.

He appreciated the immunisation programme in Fata, where, according to him, excellent progress had been made during the first three months of the year.

Of the total 58 nationwide polio cases in 2012, 28 were reported in KP and 20 in Federally Administered Tribal Areas prompting the government to make a new emergency plan to cope with the situation in 2013.

The assassination of around 15 people since December last year in polio-related incidents has negatively impacted on vaccination in KP.

“The problem is multifaceted now as the lady health workers and volunteers have refused to take part in the campaign and put their lives at risk due to Taliban’s opposition to vaccination. The other pressing problem is less payment to vaccinators which don’t motivate them,” an official said.

Officials said currently, there was no communication programme on the ground due to which the refusals against oral polio vaccine had also increased.

They said majority of children were missed by the underpaid health workers who didn’t have means of transportation to access the target children.

“Number of refusals had been brought down to 800 Bannu in November 2012, which has now shot up to 4600. Similarly, number of parents who defied vaccination was 65 and was 400 in March this year. Karak recorded 135 refusals which has now swelled to 1700,” an official said.

The official said the situation elsewhere in the province was the same.

He said withdrawal of support from the campaign of 7,000 religious leaders had dealt a serious blow to the efforts.

“The parents, who refused vaccination on religious grounds and were convinced by the local clerics, including prayers leaders and seminary teachers, have again begun to resist vaccination,” he said.

Officials said religious leaders had worked voluntarily under the umbrella of National Research Development Foundation since Nov 2009.

They said the Unicef-sponsored project was supposed to end December 31, 2012, was terminated on Nov 15 paving the way for refusals to rise and consign to dustbin the three year efforts to dustbin.

The officials said they desperately required better communication programme to do away with doubts from parents’ mind about the efficacy of the OPV and eradicate the crippling disease.

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