Disrupting vaccination: Demands hinder anti-polio drives

Some in K-P want permissions to smuggle, safe passages to allow inoculation

Umer Farooq September 19, 2022


Presently multiple campaigns are underway to eradicate polio virus from the country but often they come to startling halts when people start making demands in exchange for inoculating their children against the crippling virus.

Back in 2021 there was a growing hope that Pakistan’s efforts to combat polio had borne fruit when only 1 case was reported across the country however these hopes were dashed when 15 cases popped up — 14 from from the North Waziristan district and 1 from Lakki Marwat district.

Resultantly, an investigation by the provincial department in charge of combating polio was carried out which has revealed that illegal demands by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s (K-P) populace has hindered campaigns over the years.

For instance, in one case, people in Waziristan made inoculation against the virus dependent on them being granted permission to smuggle. “Sometimes people make genuine demands like power supply or shortage of drinking water which is beyond our jurisdiction but we can give certain assurances.

However, in Waziristan, people demanded approval for smuggling timber so we had to stop the campaign to avoid any conflict between the locals and polio teams,” a senior official involved in the vaccination campaigns informed the Express Tribune, under condition of anonymity.

Apart from tree smuggling, some want an end to long-standing tribal disputes for them to allow inoculation. In Khyber district, there is an ongoing tussle between the tribes of Mirgat Khel and Maroof Khel regarding the income from coal trucks passing through the territory, as per the official.

“The people of Maroof Khel refused polio vaccines because they wanted the safe passage of coal from the areas of Mirgat Khel along with the restoration of their power supply.” While it remains to be seen when the dispute will be resolved, another hurdle in the polio campaigns is parents who are okay with their children being paralyzed, the official informed.

“During one inoculation campaign, a parent told me that he wanted the virus to hit his child so that he could take him to the road side and collect donations from people,” he recalled.

Zeeshan Khan, Deputy Coordination Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) K-P, when asked about the illegal demands, confirmed that people did ask for smuggling timber and safe passages. “Such demands bring the campaigns to a halt and people of those areas then suffer.”

When asked how the demands were resolved, Khan informed that Deputy Commissioners (DC) try to resolve issues but sometimes the demands are beyond the DCs’ jurisdiction. “Most of these issues are with the government and if they were to address the issues then these polio drives can be carried out smoothly,” Khan said while talking to The Express Tribune.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 19th, 2022.


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