None of the parliamentarians from Federally Administered Tribal Areas were taken on board while nominating cricketer Shahid Afridi as the face of anti-polio campaigns.
At the same time, the sum of Rs66 million which authorities and donor agencies intend to spend on the upcoming campaign’s publicity has raised serious concerns. Several parliamentarians and officials believe the expenditure will not translate into desired results due to the government’s inappropriate strategies.
Earlier on Saturday, Shahnaz Wazir Ali, the Prime Minister’s Focal Person on Polio Eradication, had said that Afridi’s appointment as “polio champion” had been taken with the unanimous support of all parties in the parliament.
However, Sajid Hussain Turi, an MNA from Kurram Agency, told The Express Tribune that he was totally unaware of the development and only found out about it through a newspaper article.
Turi said he has been invited to attend a meeting on Friday, during which all parliamentarians will be taken on board regarding polio eradication strategies.
Regarding Afridi’s appointment, the MNA raised concern over his ability to influence people in tribal areas.
“He has never been to this area and is unaware of the ground realities. It would have been better if an influential personality from the region was given the responsibility instead,” he commented.
Similarly, Shaukatullah Khan, an MNA from Bajaur Agency, said that he was also unaware of Afridi’s appointment.
An official of Expanded Programme of Immunisation, who wished not to be named, termed the cricketing star’s appointment as a “weak strategy”, saying that polio eradication in tribal areas was fast becoming a serious crisis.
Regretting the ban on anti-polio campaigns by Taliban in Waziristan, he said it could spread to the entire region if effective steps aren’t taken.
The official said that the detection of a new polio case in Quetta has exposed the authorities’ weak strategies to deal with families who refuse to vaccinate their children. This, he added, is a major barrier towards achieving the target of a polio-free Pakistan by the end of this year.
Asked about the high amount earmarked for publicity campaigns, Unicef’s Media Focal Person for Polio Eradication Michael Coleman said it was due to high costs of air time and advertising in the country.
“We are grateful to have Afridi on board and appreciate his spirit to donate his time for the cause,” Coleman said.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 14th, 2012.
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