KHYBER AGENCY - Pakistan is desperately fighting to turn the tide against the polio hydra as the country suffered the most at the hands of this menace in the outgoing year.

As much as 77 polio cases were reported in Pakistan in 2013, making it the most affected country in the world. The count even surpassed counties like Nigeria which reported 50 cases and Afghanistan where only nine cases surfaced.

The most hard-hit areas are those in the northwest, the tribal areas along the Afghan border and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, where a three days anti-polio campaign was launched on Saturday amid tight security. In most parts of KPK and Fata (Federally Administered Tribal Areas), volunteers and health workers, backed by security personnel administered drops to children under five. However, in some areas, the drive was to be launched after security clearance.

Security for the health workers is the main concern as a number of them have been attacked in the past by the militants who are suspicious about the vaccination campaigns. Therefore, this time 400 trained personnel of Khasadar and Levies forces are administering polio drops to the children in the most volatile areas, where the volunteers and health workers had refused to conduct the drive.

Leading the efforts against polio, President Mamnoon Hussain Saturday chaired a high-level meeting in Peshawar to review the campaign against the crippling disease in KPK and Fata. The president called for engaging Ulema and Imams in the campaign to achieve the desired results, saying that anti-polio drive was completely in line with the religious teachings.

The president also directed for ensuring security to polio teams. “Killing innocent human beings cannot be justified in any way,” he said and called for making arrangements in the tribal region to discourage the negative trend against the polio vaccination drive and suggested distribution of leaflets and other printed material carrying decrees of noted Ulema of the country.

President Mamnoon cited the example of Bangladesh where Ulema played a key role in controlling the population growth rate. He also stressed for ensuring participation and involvement of people at all levels through a mass awareness campaign. He suggested that committees might be constituted at local level to neutralise those elements who had been opposing the polio vaccination.

Fata Additional Chief Secretary Arbab Arif gave a briefing to the president. He said they were striving to reach out to children through innovative campaigns, launched with the assistance of local communities. KPK Governor Engineer Shaukatullah Khan briefed the president about the overall law and order situation in the province and Fata as well as about polio eradication drive. Federal Minister for States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) Abdul Qadir Baloch, Advisor to the PM Amir Muqam, KPK Health Minister Shaukat Yousufzai, Chief Secretary Shahzad Arbab, Fata parliamentarians and senior officials were also present on the occasion.

In Jamrud tehsil of Khyber Agency – where at least 70 front-line health workers had earlier refused to take part in the vaccination campaign over security concerns – the drive was launched after the negotiation of workers with high ups of health department. Health officials expected that over 50,000 children below the age of five would be vaccinated against polio in Jamrud. Jamrud Assistant Political Agent (APA) Jahangir Azam Wazir himself participated in the door to door drive. He said 11 areas of the tehsil including Shakas, Jaba and Qadam were targeted in Saturday’s activity. Weapons display and pillion riding had been banned in those areas to ensure security reasons, he added.

Sources said that prior to the launch of the drive a comprehensive plan had been finalised by the administration of Khyber on tehsil level for the campaign according to which all areas had been divided into non-sensitive, sensitive and most sensitive categories. Security measures have been adopted as per nature of the area, said Landi Kotal APA. According to health department, 128,000 children are to be vaccinated in Khyber Agency.

In tehsil Landi kotal, the areas of Khuga khel, Mukhtar khel, Piro khel 2, Kam-Shelman 1&2, Loy-Shelman 1, 2, 3 and 4 have been declared most sensitive, sources said. All tehsildars and naib-tehsildars have been directed to petrol in the area and supervise the vaccination drive, sources said. However, due to security concerns the polio campaign in tehsil Bara was limited to only two areas – Kala Khel and Kamber Khel.

 The rest of the areas of Bara would be covered after clearance of security, said Khyber Agency health official Dr Muhammad Rehman.

Despite all odds, the government and NGOs had made great efforts to make the last national anti-polio drive of 2013, held from November 18 to 20, a success. During that campaign, 33.1 million children were vaccinated, while 2.34 million were missed for reasons other than parental refusals. Of these, 622, 354 were reported from Balochistan, 501,870 in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), 477,329 in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) this includes 260,000 from North and South Waziristan, 126,380 from Punjab, 609,084 from Sindh, 2,895 from Islamabad, 438 from Azad Jammu and Kashmir and 217 from Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B).