Poliovirus is running amok in the country and the number of cases has shot up to 166 this year with the diagnosis of two new patients, one each from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
The National Institute of Health (NIH) in Islamabad has confirmed the two new cases. The first victim has been identified as 16-month-old Salma, the daughter of Abdul Wajid from Sheen Kamar Village in Mairo Dera, Tirah, Khyber Agency.
The second victim is eight-month-old Habiba, the daughter of Subhanullah from Suleman Khel union council in Gharibabad village of Peshawar district.
Talking to The Express Tribune, a Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) health department official, requesting anonymity, said the latest patients did not receive a single dose of the polio vaccine.
Saying no to health
He added 42 polio cases have been reported from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh this year, out of which the families of 31 children refused immunisation. According to the official, out of the 28 cases reported from K-P, 19 refusal cases were from Bannu, while the parents of 11 out of 13 polio victims in Karachi had also refused vaccination.
The health department official further said that nine polio cases have surfaced in Peshawar, out of which six had a history of vaccination refusal.
He warned the spread of the virus was so rapid that the country would soon cross the 200 mark, making it the highest number of patients recorded in any country in 2014 and crossing Pakistan’s personal best of 198 in 2011.
The official pointed out that Unicef has hired hundreds of officials for polio eradication, but the number of cases keeps increasing by the year. Billions are spent on paying salaries of individuals who are not committed to eliminating the virus.
The health department official claimed in order to address the issue of refusal cases, Unicef hired hundreds of communication (COMNet) officers whose monthly salaries run into the millions.
Unicef Immunisation Officer Dr Bilal Ahmad rejected the reported number of refusals. He said there has been a misunderstanding in calculating the number of refusal cases and those children who were not available at the time the vaccination team visited.
Dr Ahmed added COMNet teams were fulfilling their responsibilities and the number of refusals in K-P had decreased. The officer stated that COMNet teams were now being hired in Bannu to address refusals.
He blamed the government for not paying the salaries of lady health workers on time. The doctor said there were no government checks and balances or monitoring of health workers who are on the ground.
According to the Unicef official, people from Khyber Agency and North Waziristan have been coming to Peshawar and Bannu as displaced persons and there has been a ban by the Taliban on vaccination in those areas. Therefore, the virus has made its way to these cities and is infecting children, said Dr Ahmad.
He shared the Unicef was planning ahead for the low transmission season of polio. Every year a meeting is held between the government and its supporting partners before the start of the virus’s low transmission season to discuss progress and to plan ahead, explained Dr Ahmad.
He added this year the meeting was held on September 18 in Islamabad. The meeting was chaired by National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination Minister Saira Afzal Tarar and officials of Unicef, WHO as well as representatives of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Rotary International.
He said it was discussed that a, ‘one team, one roof’ programme would be introduced as part of an emergency operation centre. Dr Ahmed added this was not the final meeting and final plans would be discussed in one last sitting.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 21st, 2014.