Polio workers administer vaccines under army protection in Bara

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Zahir Shah Sherazi & Mateen Haider

KHYBER AGENCY: Polio workers continued to administer polio drops on Thursday under the protection of the army in the Bara tehsil of Khyber tribal region during the fourth phase of polio vaccination drive in the tribal region.

The vaccination campaign had begun in July 2012 after the security forces cleared parts of the area from militants’ control.

As the volunteers asked the area’s residents on the megaphone to “send their children outside so we can vaccinate them for polio,” many children in the Malikdin Khel area came outside and started queuing in order to get vaccinated. Local villagers hailed this as a positive sign.

Under the protective cover of the army and Frontier Corps personnel, the polio workers administered polio vaccines to children less than 10 years of age in the Khyber region’s Malikdin Khel area on Thursday. Militants’ activities in the region had rendered Malikdin Khel volatile and a no-go area for some time.

The polio workers said that each phase has a target of about 75,927 children. The fourth phase is currently in progress and, despite adverse circumstances, the polio campaign had achieved 60 per cent of the target so far and about 120,000 children have been vaccinated in various parts of the Khyber region since the campaign started in 2012.

Dr Wazir Akbar of the National Staff Transmission of Polio in the Khyber tribal area said that polio drops were administered to about 26,878 children during the current phase, which started on May 6 and will go on till the end of this month. He further said that “the army and the Frontier Corps (FC) were providing security cover to the teams that are carrying out the campaign.”

He said that the situation in Bara has improved as only two polio cases in Bara were reported in 2014 so far, as compared to 14 in 2013 when the Khyber area reported 20 polio cases.

The Khyber tribal area, especially Bara, remained inaccessible to polio workers from September 2009 onwards.

“We, and many like us, would have been saved from the crippling disease if the vaccine would have reached us here on time,” said seven-year old Rashid who just had his vaccination in Malikdin Khel. Another child Razzaq said that “these are good for our health.”

A local religious leader, Muhammad Khan told that polio vaccines were not prohibited in Islam and the decrees by the ulema in this regard are clear, he said while handing over a booklet of various fatwas in support of the polio vaccination.

“I support the campaign and have also administered polio drops to my own children,” he added. Fawad Khan from the Malikdin Khel area said that the presence of the security forces had helped the locals a lot and the parents did not hesitate from having the vaccine administered to their children due to the security forces’ protection.

Another tribesman Gul Zameen said that “polio vaccine is good for the children health, I don’t know why people are opposed to it, but I support it and always have had the vaccine administered to my grandchildren whenever the campaign teams visit.”

“I believe the people are unaware. If they come to know that there is no harm in the vaccine and they are very much Islamic, there would be no opposition,” he said, adding that “the tribesmen need to be educated and awareness should be created among them if they wanted to make the campaign successful.”

Mateen Haider adds from Islamabad

The federal government has decided to involve the Pakistan Army to ensure security on all border points in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) to regulate the access of people from the tribal areas into the settled regions only after the polio vaccines have been administered in Fata.

National Coordinator for Polio Eradication and MNA Ayesha Raza Farooq called on Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif on Thursday in Islamabad and briefed the PM on efforts made by the federal government to eradicate polio.

PM Sharif directed the National Coordinator to meet Governor Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Sardar Mehtab Ahmed Khan to ensure better access and coverage of Polio workers to the masses.

The prime minister also decided to discuss the issue of polio in the next cabinet meeting and to convene a meeting of the National Task Force on Polio as soon as possible.

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