PESHAWAR: Hundreds of thousands of children will be deprived in the upcoming three-day anti-polio campaign in the country, despite hectic efforts by the government to persuade the warlords of South and North Waziristan to lift a ban on polio vaccinations.
An official in the Expanded Programme of Immunisation (EPI), Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) has confirmed to The Express Tribune that the two agencies will not be included in the July 16-18 campaign, depriving a total of 227,654 children – 145,845 in North Waziristan and 81,809 in South Waziristan.
“Negotiations are under way involving the government and ulema of the National Research and Development Foundation (NRDF), but we have still not cleared the way to send polio teams in North and South Waziristan, thus we have deferred the campaign in these areas,” Deputy Director of EPI, Fata, Sahibzada Khalid told The Express Tribune.
Khalid went on to add that transit points had been set up in the surrounding areas of both agencies to ensure that residents leaving and entering these areas are vaccinated.
On June 16, a senior Taliban Commander in the North Waziristan Agency, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, had issued a decree against anti-polio drives, which was followed by a similar decree by Mullah Nazir, commander of his own faction of the Taliban in South Waziristan. Both warlords linked the anti-polio campaign in the tribal agencies to cessation of US drone attacks.
The three-day anti-polio campaign will kick off on July 16 in the country with EPI Fata having a target to vaccinate a total of 751,060 children below the age of five years. A total of 2,648 teams have been constituted to carry out the programme and 590 areas have been given supervisors.
EPI officials will target 231 areas in Fata apart from the two agencies and a total of 45,274 oral polio vaccines (OPVs) will be administered to children.
“We are running an awareness campaign before the anti-polio drive to convince parents to vaccinate their children and to remove their reservations over the polio drops,” the deputy director said.
Communication and Advocacy Specialist, Prime Minister’s Polio Monitoring and Coordination Cell, Mazhar Nisar, told The Express Tribune that the EPI programme was an “opportunistic campaign” and it takes place whenever the situation becomes favourable since all arrangements have already been made.
Meanwhile, NRDF Chairman Advocate Jalaluddin said that they would support a government initiative to solve the ban issue through negotiations, but so far they had not been asked for any assistance in such efforts.
Interestingly, World Health Organisation (WHO) Fata coordinator Dr Sarfaraz told The Express Tribune that she had been informed that the campaign was being deferred in North and South Waziristan.
“We have not received any information from FATA secretariat but there is ample chance that the virus may spread to other parts of the country if the campaign is not carried out in North and South Waziristan agencies,” said Dr Sarfaraz.
He added that there was a 60% reduction in the number of polio cases, 23 to be exact, reported this year to date, compared to 59 cases during the same period in 2011.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 13th, 2012.
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