KARACHI - Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah has said that polio has become a big challenge for his government, but “I have accepted this challenge and Inshallah I will make Sindh a polio-free province very soon.”

He said this while presiding over a high profile meeting on polio here at the New Secretariat on Monday. Those who attended the meeting were Health Minister Dr Sikandar Mendhro, MNA Dr Azra Pechuho, provincial polio coordinator Shahnaz Wazir Ali, Chief Secretary Rizwan Memon, Sindh Police Inspector General AD Khowaja, Additional IG for Karachi Mushtaq Maher, Health Secretary Fazal Pechuho, division commissioners, CEO of the PPHI, EPI Project Director Fayaz Jatoi and representatives of the federal government, WHO and Unicef.

Briefing the chief minister, Fayaz Jatoi said that during 2016 some 19 polio cases were found all over Pakistan. Of them, eight were found in Sindh, eight in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, two in FATA and one in Balochistan. No polio case was found in Punjab last year. He added that out of eight cases in Sindh, seven were found in rural areas and one in Karachi.

The chief minister was told that in 2015 there were 54 polio cases in the country -- 12 in Sindh, 17 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 16 in FATA, seven in Balochistan and two in Punjab. On this, the chief minister said it was a cause of concern that the situation in Sindh had not improved, but the situation in Punjab, Balochistan, FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had improved. He said that Sindh had made a negligible progress in this regard. This shows that there was a problem, which had to be solved.

The meeting was informed that the campaign launched at the end of September and December 2016 was aimed at immunising 2.2 million children in Karachi and 6.1 million children in rural areas of the province. In the city, 2.6 percent of the 2.2 million children were not available for vaccination and parents of 1.7 percent of these children refused to have their children vaccinated.

The chief minister expressed his displeasure with this situation and said that it was the responsibility of the district administration to ensure 100 percent coverage. “We all have to take ownership of the anti-polio drive otherwise Sindh will lag behind. I will not let this happen,” he said.

It was disclosed at the meeting that the staff at the KMC-run health facilities was not willing to take part in polio campaigns. It was pointed out that Landhi UC-I and UC-2, SITE UC-9 and Baldia UC-2 were at high risk because of a lack of health facilities. Apart from this there were dysfunctional hospitals in UC-4, Gadap, Janat Gul Hospital. On this, the chief minister directed the chief secretary to talk to the KMC administration and direct them to ensure proper participation of the staff. Otherwise action will be taken against them.

It was disclosed at the meeting that there was no district health officer at Sujawal Hospital. District health officers were posted in Matiari and Jamshoro last Friday. Some of the district health officers are near retirement. The district health officers of Ghotki and Kamber have additional charges.

On this, the chief minister directed the health minister to fill the vacant positions of district health officers on a priority basis. He said that those who were retiring must be replaced on time. Additional charge should be withdrawn from various district health officers and senior officials should be appointed to vacant posts, he said.

The chief minister noted that there were only 2,200 ice-lined refrigerators and prolonged power outages were rendering polio vaccine ineffective. On this, the chief minister directed the chief secretary to procure solar-powered refrigerators. “I cannot wait for donor agencies to send refrigerators because polio is a serious issue. Therefore, we should purchase the cooling system,” he said.

The chief minister directed the health minister and the secretary to activate lady health workers (LHWs) and utilise their services for eradication of polio from the province. The chief minister was informed that lady health workers were staging protests because they had not been paid their salaries for the last four months. On this, the chief minister directed the finance department to release their salaries immediately.

When the chief minister was returning from the Secretariat, lady health workers were protesting on the road. He got out of his car and told them that he had released their salaries. Some of them insisted that they wanted to meet the chief minister and have the issue resolved. The chief minister invited nine of them to Chief Minister’s House where he held a meeting with them.

The meeting was attended by Health Minister Dr Sikandar Mendhro, Principal Secretary to CM Naveed Kamran Baloch, Health Secretary Fazal Pechuho and Finance Secretary Hassan Naqvi.

The chief minister said that he had already ordered release of their salaries and other issues like repair of vehicles, provision of fuel and payment of salaries on time would be resolved accordingly. He directed the health secretary to meet a delegation of the lady health workers and solve their problems within the next three days.