The government’s aim to ensure that “every single child under the age of five in the country is vaccinated against polio during the campaign in March,” has fallen quite short of its goal.
The prime minister’s focal person on polio eradication Dr Shanaz Wazir Ali had earlier told the BBC that if the disease is not curtailed, it would begin to spread much faster from April. The month has arrived, and preventive efforts have little to show in the way of accomplishments.
According to an independent report titled ‘Polio Eradication Initiative Post Campaign Monitoring,’ which has been jointly prepared by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and the government, polio coverage stood as follows: Karachi 89%, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa 77%, Federally Administrered Tribal Areas 17% and Balochistan 26%.
The coverage percentage in Punjab and Sindh (excluding Karachi) had reached the satisfactory level after the last two campaigns. The accepted satisfactory level according to WHO and other international standards stands at 95%.
According to WHO’s Lot Quality Assurance Sampling (LQAS) technology, 33 districts in Pakistan were declared ‘high-risk.’ In Punjab, these include DG Khan, Multan, Muzaffargarh, Jhang, and surprisingly, Lahore.
In Sindh; Badin, Sukkur, Thatta, Gadap, Gulshan-e-Iqbal and Kemari failed to achieve satisfactory results. Gadap has become a high-risk area due to poor coverage.
In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa; Bannu, Karak, Kohat and Peshawar failed to achieve satisfactory results, according to the LQAS.
Senator Shahi Syed of the Awami National Party expressed concern over the government not involving parliamentarians of the areas in the campaign. “In my entire tenure, I have never been asked to participate in the drive,” he said.
Polio eradication teams, on the other hand, continue to face ideological obstacles. When teams insist that families bring their children outside their homes for the administration of these drops, people are fearful of abductions. When the teams ask to be let in, the people are reluctant to allow strangers to enter their homes. Families, who want their women to do ‘Pardah’ (wear veils) are not too keen on the visits either.
Hamidullah Jan Afridi, a senator from Fata, also expressed dissatisfaction over the government’s efforts, saying that “the government has 0% control over Fata.”
Afridi said polio cannot be eradicated by just administering drops and vaccination to children. “The reasons for its spread, such as open defecation, need to be controlled,” he said, while adding that officials working for the cause lacked in-depth and timely information.
Moreover, the campaign fails to include the mobile segments of society. WHO Senior Coordinator for Polio Eradication Dr Elias Durry said, “Polio virus in sewage samples in all the major cities underscores the importance of vaccinating the mobile population.”
He said the next supplementary immunisation activities are scheduled for April 23-25, followed by further rounds in June.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 8th, 2012.