Eradicating polio in Sindh seems to be more difficult than the authorities had imagined. In the last national polio eradication campaign held in July, 33,780 sets of parents refused to let the vaccination teams give their children anti-polio drops. This is the biggest road-block polio teams have ever faced so far in Pakistan.
This is a significant increase from the 22,000 refusals met by polio teams in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). The number of children affected in Sindh is 443,231. This includes the 22,000 children who were left out when the campaign in Gadap was suspended because of the attack on World Health Organisation (WHO) and Unicef staff and led them to shut down their offices.
According to Dr Elias Durry, the chief coordinator for polio eradication at WHO, so far all the attention has been focused on KP which is considered to be hotbed for vaccine refusal. According WHO official who wanted to remain anonymous said that the number of refusals were puzzling because Sindh does not have as much lawlessness or militancy as KP to impede the campaign. He said that most people have religious misconceptions about the vaccine and consider it to be haram or a conspiracy.
According to WHO, 1.23 million children did not receive polio drops in Punjab and with the addition of figures from other provinces the total number of children in the country who have been missed out in the July 2012 campaign is 2.2 million. However, Dr Durry said that these were only cases which were registered. The actual number of refusals and children missed in the campaign is bound be much higher. “The campaign had planned to immunise 34 million children but was able to reach 30.08 million,” he said. “Although the effort is enviable and we are trying to reach more children but we cannot afford to be happy over what we have achieved because too many children still remain unimmunised.”
This might just reverse the progress that Pakistan has made so far in its fight against polio because even the children who have already been immunised more than once can be infected from the children who haven’t received the vaccine. “We need to seek the help of religious and traditional leaders to convince families about the efficacy of polio vaccine,” said Dr Durry.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 4th, 2012.