KARACHI: A group of small children lined up in a colourful room of a private school on Wednesday morning and waited for a burqa-clad woman to force red polio drops down their throats. This was part of the three-day anti-polio campaign, which ended on a bitter note as the administrative staff of private schools around the city complained about being harassed and subjected to aggressive behaviour.
Private schools were asked to cooperate with the government teams administering polio vaccinations to students under the age of five years or go to jail. “We were harassed by the polio teams and were forced to let them administer drops to our students,” said the principal of AMI School’s nursery branch, Nasira Faiz. “We are not the parents of these students. We cannot give permission to these teams to administer polio drops.”
In Jamshed town, anti-polio teams were accompanied by police officers who were always a step ahead and ready to pick up faculty members. On Monday, the manager of the AMI school, Shakeelur Razzak, was picked up from the school and taken to the Ferozabad police station, just because the school did not attend a meeting on the polio campaign organised by the town commissioner.
“Our schools are located in safe areas. How can people barge in with guns? There was no condition in the notice that if we don’t attend, we would be arrested,” said Rabea Minai, a teacher. “We are against this aggressive attitude.”
Razzak was released after the school said that they would apologise to the town administration for ‘causing inconvenience’ to the polio teams. They had to ensure that the school would cooperate with the anti-polio teams. On Tuesday, the school sent out circulars to the parents asking them for permission to have their children vaccinated at school. Sarwat Naseem, a parent, said that her children were vaccinated. She felt that this approach was wrong.
While talking to The Express Tribune, the deputy commissioner for the East, Qazi Jan Muhammad, said that he wanted to make sure that every child in his district was vaccinated. “Every deputy commissioner is responsible for the children in his area,” he said. “If any child has polio in my area then it will become my responsibility.”
He added that this year, the health department had indicated refusal areas ie, those areas or schools where anti-polio teams were not allowed to vaccinate children in the past. “There were 172 schools in the east zone which were refusal areas,” he said. “This time we took strict action against them. We arrested some staff members but released them after they swore to cooperate with us.”
According to the deputy commissioner, under section 186 of the Pakistan Penal Code, they have the right to take the action and arrest those who disobeyed government orders.
“Private schools say that they can’t let the children get vaccinated without the parents’ consent,” he said. “We don’t need the permission. It is the basic human right of every child under the age of five to get vaccinated.”
The chairman of the All Private Schools Management Association, Khalid Shah, said that for the first time, around 50 to 55 private schools had turned into polio centres during the campaign. He added that earlier, the health department was not successful in vaccinating all the children as most of them were at school but this time the schools had worked with them.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 2nd, 2012.