Contrary to popular perception, the Shakil Afridi incident had little impact on the polio campaign in the militancy-hit north — no uptick in refusals has been reported since then, according to health officials working on the ground, said a press release.
This was revealed at a discussion organised at the Jinnah Institute to identify impediments to polio eradication.
However, the impact of militancy and insurgency on anti-polio campaigns in the region continue to be high. District health officials from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) said the communities are increasingly denying access to polio vaccination teams in order to seek material benefits such as electricity supply, infrastructure and an end to drone strikes.
Over 200,000 children in North and South Waziristan are at risk of contracting polio due to the existing ban on anti-polio campaigns by the militants.
However, Special Adviser to the Prime Minister Shahnaz Wazir Ali they were working with local leaders and scholars to find a solution to the problem. She also noted that misinformation about the safety of the polio vaccine and its side effects had hampered the drive to reach all children across Pakistan.
Dr Elias Durry, who is heading the World Health Organisation’s polio eradication programme, observed that Pakistan is at a crucial phase in the fight against polio. “Provided that vaccination efforts continue unhindered, it may be able to eradicate the virus.”
Michael Coleman from UNICEF noted that while a number of positive stories were being circulated in the media, negative stories were getting more attention and play.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 11th, 2012.