A letter sent to the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) government by the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that the risk of the spread of polio virus from Bara Tehsil of Khyber Agency to other areas is imminent.
Bara is the only place in Asia where type-3 polio cases showed up in 2011 and 2012, the letter said. It added that the situation was an extraordinary one and therefore required extraordinary steps.
According to copy of the letter available with The Express Tribune, the reason for the likely spread of polio is that migration from Bara has increased significantly, as is reflected in the sudden increase of registered internally displaced persons (IDP) in Nowshera’s Jallozai Camp.
Almost the entire area of Bara has had no vaccination campaigns since September 2009, which has caused the most prolonged outbreak of polio cases ever seen in Pakistan in such a circumscribed area. There were 18 polio cases reported from Bara in 2010, 16 in 2011 and four in 2012, so far.
Though K-P is considered to be progressing in the right direction for implementing the Augmented National Emergency Action Plan for polio eradication, immunity gaps remain in populations on the move, such as IDPs from FATA. The four polio cases in 2012 so far are associated with these groups.
Considering the magnitude of the situation, WHO suggested to the K-P government to immediately set up well manned transit points at tactically appropriate areas for round-the-clock vaccination of IDPs passing by. District coordination officers (DCOs) should keep a check on these and provide police support.
The WHO also suggested that the Peshawar and Kohat commissioners should map out populations from Khyber Agency in particular, as well as recent IDPs from the agency inside and outside the camps. Three rapid vaccination campaigns among IDPs in the areas mapped out will also help build up immunity to the disease.
Govt takes steps
While talking to The Express Tribune, K-P Chief Secretary Ghulam Dastgir said that after receiving the letter a meeting was called which was attended by WHO and Fata and K-P secretariat officials, as well as other stakeholders. A strategy has been chalked out to implement the suggestions provided by WHO, he added.
Dastgir explained that the team is also working on administering polio vaccines to children from Bara between the ages of five and 15, as well as all IDPs living in camps outside Peshawar. He said the main reason behind the rise in the polio cases in K-P and Fata is due to the militancy the areas suffer, which prevents polio teams from accessing certain areas.
LHW protests in K-P
Meanwhile, Lady Health Workers (LHW) staged a protest in different parts of K-P against sacking of provincial coordinator for national health programme on Monday. Rallies were held in Swat, Nowshera and Peshawar. Protesters were holding banners and placards outside the Peshawar press club chanting slogans against the termination of the provincial coordinator.
Talking to The Express Tribune, LHW President Farman Khan urged the government to regularise the LHW staff to prevent continuous protests demanding suspension of Dr Ahsanullah Turabi.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 20th, 2012.