The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) government has established polio vaccination kiosks at the transit points of all tribal agencies, including South and North Waziristan – making it mandatory for all children transiting the region to get polio drops.
Currently there are approximately 0.7 million children in the region out of which 0.4 million are under the age of 15 and 0.35 million are the under age of five.
Talking to The Express Tribune, Mazhar Nisar, spokesperson for the PM’s polio coordination cell said: “Since accessing these areas has always been a problem, first due to prejudices and now the ban, the federal government has recently evolved a transit strategy aimed at firewalling the tribal agencies which account for the maximum number of polio cases.”
Half of this year’s 22 cases emerged from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Pashtuns, the dominant ethnic group of FATA and K-P, accounted for 77% of the 198 cases of polio reported in Pakistan in 2011.
According to Nisar, as part of the fresh strategy, 45 polio vaccination points have been set up at entry and exit points to the seven agencies and all children in the five-15 age-group transiting through any of these points will be vaccinated. Further, 22 cross-border vaccination points have been set up along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
To deal with the prejudices and misconceptions associated with the vaccine, the government has also roped in clerics. “District khateebs” and imams of mosques have been made part of the polio eradication committees. “They are encouraged to use the Friday sermon to address prejudices and misconceptions,” Nisar said.
Meanwhile, World Health Organisation Senior Coordinator for Polio Eradication Dr Elias Durry revealed that as a result of the ban imposed by the Taliban on the campaign, over 260,000 children in the tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan besides Bara tehsil in the Khyber agency could not be immunised during the recently-concluded three-day National Polio Campaign.
“Against the 58 confirmed cases from 24 districts between January and June 2011, only 22 polio cases were reported from these 13 districts across the country in the first six months of this year. This suggests that the programme is not failing.”
Meanwhile, a tribal jirga held in Miramshah endorsed the polio vaccination ban as long as US drone attacks continued in the region.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 26th, 2012.
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