There is a ‘polio emergency’ in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), as more than three-quarters of cases in 2013 are linked to central K-P, especially Peshawar. The provincial capital has the highest rate of poliovirus detection in sewerage water.
These revelations were made by 25 parliamentarians from K-P and Fata during a briefing organised by the Ministry of Health Services, Regulations and Coordination on Wednesday.
They expressed strong concerns about the polio situation in their constituencies and said there is also danger of large number of new polio cases in the coming months if the current outbreaks in Fata’s Khyber and North Waziristan agencies are not properly managed.
“K-P was the only province which reported more cases in 2012 compared to 2011. In 2013 to date, the province has reported five cases. Meanwhile, Fata is the region with the highest number of polio cases in 2013, with a total of 12, including eight reported in Khyber Agency reported and two in North Waziristan,” said the members of the parliament.
They said that other than security threats, there are governance, management and accountability issues in the road to eliminate polio. Some high risk union councils (UC) are still without UC medical officers.
Prime Minister Polio Monitoring and Coordination Cell National Coordinator Dr Altaf Bosan highlighted the threats being faced by K-P. He said that the areas of highest concern currently are in Fata’s North and South Waziristan agencies, Bara Tehsil in Khyber Agency, and central K-P.
“In 2013, more than 80% of polio cases have been linked to intense wild poliovirus (WPV) circulation in central K-P. Moreover, Gadap Town in Karachi has a native circulation that also appeared in Quetta, as well as Dadu in interior Sindh,” he said.
He said that the major hurdles in the fight against polio are refusals, district control rooms that are not fully functional, and uneven performance and accountability at grassroots levels.
On the security situation, he spoke of the attacks on polio workers and the security personnel escorting them, and the written or verbal threats to polio workers.
“It is unfortunate that no one has claimed responsibility for all this so far,” he said.
National Health Services Secretary Imtiaz Inayat Ilahi requested parliamentarians from all political parties to appoint a focal person in K-P to monitor polio campaigns by providing oversight of their performance and convincing citizens to vaccinate their children.
Talking to The Express Tribune, PTI MNA Shehryar Afridi said the main reason polio cases still being reported from K-P and Fata is poor management and administration.
He said that on one side, the government claimed Pakistan is receiving substantial funds for polio eradication, but unfortunately these donations are not reaching grassroots level.
He said the best example of this is that the 25 deputy commissioners in K-P do not even have money to provide transportation to vaccinators during the anti-polio campaigns.
Meanwhile, vaccinators get low salaries which are often delayed for up to six months, which further lowers their morale, Afridi added.
He said that in the meetings, parliamentarians raised questions about maintaining the efficacy of polio vaccines in rural areas --- where there are prolonged power outages --- but were told that the colour of the vaccine changes when it becomes less effective.
“The problem is that due to the communication gap between the elected representatives and health officials, we are not allowed to even look at the vaccine,” he said.
He suggested that the army should be brought in to vaccinate children in areas which vaccinators cannot safely access.
Earlier, ANP Senator Haji Adeel recommended that the accounts for the polio programme be kept transparent and open to public scrutiny.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 18th, 2013.