Pakistan

Polio vaccinators complain about intimidation by people

ASHFAQ YUSUFZAI

PESHAWAR: The district administration has claimed to have reduced refusal cases by parents against polio vaccination amid complaints by health workers that they are forced by people to show their children as ‘vaccinated’ in the record without administering them the vaccine.

“In this way the parents, who don’t want to give oral polio vaccine to their children, avoid arrest by police. The workers also apply blue ink on the small finger of left hand of the child out of fear. Finger-marking is the only evidence to determine if a person is vaccinated but in the process refusal prevails,” health workers told Dawn.

They said that parents managed to remain unnoticed by the administration despite refusing OPV to their children. “Recently, a person aimed a pistol at a health worker, who was trying to vaccinate children in Yakatoot. The man was opposed to OPV and didn’t want to immunise his child,” they added.

The health workers said that it created fear among the vaccinators as they were being warned by parents in case they were booked under the MPO on their complaints.

“We are looking after polio campaigns and refusals and covering missed and inaccessible children through involvement of community. Last year, Peshawar had 10,000 refusal cases which have now been reduced to less than 1,000,” Shahid Mahmood, the additional deputy commissioner of Peshawar, told Dawn.

He said that they focused on Shaheen Muslim Town where environmental sample collected from sewerage of 17 union councils had been tested positive for poliovirus.

“The district administration closely watches polio drives and obtains reports about children from the field workers. We deploy teams to convince parents to administer anti-polio drops to their children,” said the official.

He said that committees formed by the administration were consisted of religious scholars, elected people from the community and health officials, who met the parents to woo them in the light of Islam about the significance of vaccination and address other misconceptions held by people about vaccination.

“Causes of refusing vaccines are different and we employ different tactics to prevail upon them that OPV is meant to protect their children against poliomyelitis,” said Mr Mahmood.

He said that they were close to end refusals by parents completely and eradicate the poliovirus from the province by end of the current year. “Our workers remain in the field for 28 days to ensure that all children get vaccinated,” he said.

The official said that in the November’s anti-polio campaign, no one was arrested. He said that administration ordered arrest of 70 parents, who refused to vaccinate their children. They were freed soon when they got their children vaccinated, he said.

“During the last campaign, we vaccinated above 100 children, who remained inoculated in the past one and half year,” said the official.

Sources said that community-based approach paid off because health department had not been able to deal with refusal against OPV. They said that the province recorded 30,000 refusal cases and 100, 000 children remained inaccessible that posed threats to 5.6 million immunised children in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

“Anyone reported as ‘refusal’ is arrested by police to establish writ of government. We are dealing with people for threatening health workers,” said the deputy commissioner of a southern district.

He said that polio programme was run by government and the parents were bound to administer vaccines to their children. “Use of force can also enrage people, therefore, a professional approach has been adopted by the district administration in the province to cope with the people, who oppose polio eradication campaign by showing complete defiance,” he added.

Published in Dawn, December 1st, 2016

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