HYDERABAD/ KARACHI: The attacks on polio workers in Karachi and Peshawar may have left a bigger scar on the society than most realise - not only will the killings deter future workers from joining anti-polio drives but the Sindh government has also decided to postpone the polio campaign indefinitely, especially in Karachi.
The government has announced Rs500,000 as compensation for families of the deceased while the health department will bear the medical expenses of the two male workers who were wounded during the anti-polio drive.
The second round of vaccination is usually carried out after 40 days but following the recent attacks, the provincial health department is not sure whether it will continue the drive as the first round has come to a stop.
Before the campaign, meetings are held between health department officials, town administration and police officials to discuss what security measures should be adopted. The health ministry, however, claimed that it did not receive any complaints from areas where the attacks took place on Tuesday.
“The government provides security to the teams working in locations where threats exist but we did not receive any complaints from these areas,” said Sindh Health Minister Dr Sagheer Ahmed, adding that making security arrangements for 15,555 polio workers is not an easy task.
At the press briefing on Wednesday, he said that around 4,433,680 children were to receive the anti-polio drops, out of which 1,335,853 were in Karachi.
After the killings, the health department demanded the provincial and federal governments and law enforcing agencies to provide better security for vaccination teams so that they could perform without fear. Dr Ahmed also appealed to religious leaders and media to spread the importance of anti-polio drive.
Karachi Commissioner Syed Hashim Raza directed deputy commissioners on Wednesday to involve Rangers with police for security of polio workers.
The College of Family Medicine Pakistan, Sindh Private Hospitals and Clinics Welfare Association, Pakistan Paramedical Association, Vaccination Welfare Association Sindh and other associations and civil society activists condemned the attacks outside the press club. They asked people to support the anti-polio campaign by giving drops to their children so that they could live a normal and healthy life.
Five-day mourning in
The repercussions of the attacks on the workers were also felt in Sindh districts as the three-day immunisation drive in Hyderabad and Mirpurkhas divisions ended halfway.
The drive, which started on December 17, was scheduled to complete on Wednesday across Sindh. Protests were held in Hyderabad, Sanghar, Tando Allahyar, Thatta, Mirpurkhas, Benazirabad, Matiari, Tando Muhamamd Khan and other districts on Wednesday.
“We are observing a five-day mourning due to which we will not be able to work,” said Saeeda Shaheen, who leads the All Pakistan Lady Health Workers Association, Sindh.
The lady health workers’ leader Rukhsana Mughal announced at a press conference that they have decided to end administering the drops door-to-door.
According to Mughal, the terrorist attacks are not the only threats the workers encounter while going door-to-door. “There are people who harass female workers and there are those who oppose immunisation for religious reasons.”
According to Dr Muhammad Ashraf Memon, the two cases of polio - one from Hyderabad and one from Mirpurkhas - totalled the number of cases in Sindh this year to four.
Raheela Shaikh, general secretary of the Lady Health Workers Association, said there are more than 300 families in Hyderabad which are continuously denying immunisation of their children. “Such families are found in almost every union council of Hyderabad. They refuse us in every campaign.”
She said the complete details of such families have been handed over to the health authorities and the district administration. “But we never got any help from the government to persuade these families.”
Published in The Express Tribune, December 20th, 2012.
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