Lady health workers (LHW) boycotted the polio eradication campaign that kicked off in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, thus postponing the exercise in five districts. To make matters worse, around 300,000 children in North Waziristan, South Waziristan and parts of Khyber Agency will miss out on the vaccine due to the security situation.
Talking to The Express Tribune, Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) Assistant Director Dr Kalimullah Khan said the current campaign targeted some 2.8 million children across K-P. He confirmed the boycott forced authorities to postpone vaccinations in Lakki Marwat, Charsadda, Bannu and Malakand till August 31. He confirmed preparations in Peshawar were not complete and the campaign will take place another day.
The LHWs decided to boycott the campaign as their salaries have not been released for the last three months. Peshawar district supervisor Ayesha Hassan said they would not start vaccinating children till their salaries were paid.
She said most of the 16,300 workers belong to very poor families and their livelihoods depend on this salary. “How can we take care of other people’s children when our own are dying of poverty?” she asked.
Meanwhile, Kalimullah said the programme would not be disrupted in DI Khan, Lower Dir, Hangu, Tank, Karak, Kohat and Mardan, adding 1.4 million children have already been vaccinated.
It was initially planned to send out 9,108 teams, but the lady health workers’ boycott reduced that number to 3,000, he said.
Polio in FATA
Around 2,656 teams have been organised to administer drops to 712,604 children all over Fata and the frontier regions. These include 2,340 mobile, 241 fixed and 75 transit teams that would travel with proper security arrangements. However, a little under 300,000 children in North Waziristan, South Waziristan and areas of Khyber Agency will miss out on the drops due to the security situation.
FATA Additional Chief Secretary Arbab Mohammad Arif asked vaccinators to ensure all children under the age of five were given drops so the country can rid itself of the crippling virus.
Arif also appealed to community members to extend their full support so no child misses out on the preventative vaccine.
At least 117 cases of polio have been reported in Pakistan this year, 85 of which were children in Fata. Militants in tribal areas have frequently attacked vaccination teams and asked families to stay away from polio campaigns. Over 50 people, including health workers and law enforcers providing security, have been killed in these attacks since December 2012.
WHO declared a global “public health emergency” in May after new polio cases began surfacing and spreading across borders from countries, including Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 26th, 2014.