Though Pakistan boasts of being a nuclear power its defence line collapses when it comes to containing the crippling polio virus.
Pakistan is among the three countries, Nigeria and Afghanistan being the other two, where the virus has not been completely contained. Polio continues to threaten the future generations of the country.
As part of continued anti-polio efforts, the Balochistan government launched another vaccination drive that concluded on Wednesday. The Express Tribune team visited Civil Hospital Quetta and Bolan Medical Complex to evaluate the results of the vaccination campaign.
According to health authorities, approximately 800 children were administered polio drops in Civil Hospital Quetta, 650 in Bolan Medical Complex and 300 at the Quetta Railway Station during the three-day campaign. Results from the mobile teams and door to door vaccination teams have yet to arrive.
The three-day drive was initiated in the five districts of the province where it had been postponed earlier on account of by-elections and security concerns.
Last month, the provincial government called off the anti-polio campaign in Quetta and Pishin for security reasons and in Jhal Magsi, Naseerabad and Killa Abdullah for by-election.
After the attacks on polio volunteers across the country, particularly in Balochistan, the provincial authorities deployed more personnel of police and Levies for the protection of polio teams going door to door in Pishin, Qilla Abdullah and Quetta.
“After the attack on security persons guarding our team in Pishin on July 29, it was impossible to regain the trust of frontline polio workers who go door to door for administering the vaccine to children,” said Dr Masood Jogezai, Polio Technical Focal Person of the Balochistan government, “But I am optimistic about the security during this campaign.”
According to the authorities, not a single polio case has been registered this year in Balochistan.
In 2011, the virus was found in 73 children of the province, but in 2012 the number dropped to only four and in 2013 not a single case has been reported so far. The provincial authorities are planning four more anti-polio campaigns till December, said Dr Noor Baloch, polio focal person for the Balochistan government.
“The provincial chief secretary is monitoring the anti-polio drive through deputy commissioners,” he said, explaining that the outreach has been strengthened.
On the ground
Deputy Provincial Manager Lady Health Worker Programme Dr Afzal Zarkoon said that 896 mobile anti-polio teams were working in Quetta in addition to 61 transit and 96 fixed polio vaccination centres. Around 924 lady health workers were part of the anti-polio drive.
He said more than 0.4 million children would be vaccinated in Quetta district alone. He said that 21 platoons of security personnel were deployed for the safety of polio workers.
Stop for drops
Masooma Qurban, the Unicef media officer said that vaccination teams were deployed at Buleli check post where vehicles going to or coming from Pishin and Qilla Abdullah districts stop for routine checking. The vaccinators administer polio drops to any child present in the vehicles, Qurban said.
“Pishin and Qilla Abdullah districts are high-risk zones, therefore transit teams at Buleli check post cover the children who were not vaccinated due to the distant journey,” she added.
The Unicef’s district coordination officer for the anti-polio drive told The Express Tribune that the administration has solicited edicts from religious scholars in favour of polio vaccination. “When people refuse to administer polio drops to their children we show them the fatwas or read it to them,” she said.
“Almost all of the people get convinced by these pro-drops fatwas but a few, around 20%, are rigid in their refusals,” she said.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 5th, 2013.