PESHAWAR - The last year of 2013 was horrific for the anti-polio efforts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where at least 16 polio campaigners, including eight security personnel, were killed and 17 others were injured in attacks in various parts of the province.
From the last several years the government with help of World Health Organisation and religious parties’ leaders have been engaged in making hectic efforts to clear confusion and propaganda about the polio vaccine to reduce refusal cases in KPK and FATA, but the attacks on polio teams were the main hurdle in the way of this immunisation campaign.
However, in this year 95 per cent children in 25 districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have been vaccinated which resulted in decrease of numbers of polio cases from 27 in 2012 to 10 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, while the overall figurers have increased from 58 in 2012 to 77 this year in Pakistan.
A recent decree issued by a prominent leader and head of his own faction of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (S) Maulana Samiul Haq, urged parents to immunise their children against polio and other life-threatening diseases and said vaccinations were compliant with Sharia.
But religious party leader and Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf Chairman Imran Khan’s personal involvement has not stopped the targeting of polio workers and security personnel and a polio supervisor Ghalif Khan killed in Jamrud Tehsil of Khyber Agency in December 21 was the latest example in FATA while one medical practitioner and polio vaccinator along with two medical assistants were targeted in Mattni Civil Hospital where one succumbed to his injuries on way to hospital. According to KPK Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) spokesman Dr Kaleemullah Khan, the religious leaders’ decrees and cooperation would not only result in reducing attacks but would encourage parents to see their children get polio drops. He said that due to these decrees of religious parties’ leaders and clerics, the number of refusal cases in KPK and FATA have decreased to a great extent.
He said that in 2013 a total of Rs 96 million have been spent on polio campaigns, whereas 95 per cent children in 25 districts have been vaccinated. During these campaigns nine polio workers and eight security personnel were killed while 19 others were injured in various parts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
He explained that four security personnel and four polio workers were gunned down in Peshawar while several others were injured; two police men were killed in Mardan, two polio workers and three police killed in Swabi and two policemen were targeted in Charsadda only in 2013.
He informed that so far four polio cases were reported in Peshawar, two from Mardan and one each from Kohat, Swabi, Bannu and Malakand while Peshawar is one of the high risky areas in the whole province. Most of the volunteers risking their lives to protect children from the crippling disease are getting only Rs 25 per day allowance during campaigns that continues for three to five days a month.
According to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Polio Monitoring Cell, one million rupees compensation has been paid to the martyred and Rs 10,0000 to the injured workers.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa EPI Director Janbaz Afridi said that support for vaccination from such a senior religious scholar who has supporters in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, FATA and even in Afghanistan, will hopefully help in addressing misconceptions created about vaccination.
He added that the decree issued by the head of Darul Uloom Haqqania Maulana Samiul Haq has come at the right time and it will helpful to eliminate poliovirus from the province.
He said that comparatively the previous years the number of polio cases has decreased. He informed that in 2011 the number of polio cases were 23, in 2012 were 27 and this year the number has decreased to only 10.
He said that the ban imposed in North and South Waziristan Agencies in June 2012 has deprived more than 2,50,000 eligible children from receiving polio vaccines and that is why the number in FATA increased day by day.
He said that they are very hopeful that they would make this province free poliovirus in the future. However in 2013, 06 cases were reported from Punjab, seven from Sindh, none from Balochistan, 10 from KP and 52 from FATA.