KARACHI - Expressing his serious reservation over the emergence of one polio case in Karachi, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah said on Thursday that it had undone all the hard work that was put in to make the city polio free.

He was presiding over a meeting of Task Force for Polio Eradication here at the New Sindh Secretariat.

The meeting was attended by EOC Sindh Chairperson Dr Azra Pechuho, Minister for Health Dr Sikandar Mandhro, Chief Secretary Sindh Rizwan Memon, Secretary Health Dr Fazalullah Pechuho, National Technical Focal Person Dr Altaf Bossan, Technical Focal Person EOC Sindh Dr Ahmad Ali Shaikh, National and Provincial team leads from WHO and UNICEF as well as Commissioner Karachi Ejaz Ahmad Khan, DCs of Karachi and commissioners from other districts of Sindh besides Additional IG Sindh Mushtaq Mahar.

Provincial Coordinator Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) for Polio Fayaz Jatoi, while giving presentation, said that Karachi had made huge progress towards polio eradication and even the environment samples were clear until March 2017. “Following which the virus reappeared and subsequently resulted in a case of polio in a seven-month-old child whose family had refused their child to be vaccinated,” he informed.

He proposed that in order to reverse the situation, all efforts should be made, including the engagement of 5000 newly recruited medical staff in EPI/PEI, making health facilities functional in underserved areas and increasing the accountability of low performing officers.

He proposed legislation for making it compulsory for parents to get their children vaccinated against polio in Sindh so that polio virus could be got rid of once for all.

The chief minister stressed that local community elders and religious leaders should be involved in the campaign to motivate the parents that polio vaccine was necessary to eradicate the crippling diseases. “I would personally visit the areas where refusal rate is high,” he vowed, and directed the Karachi commissioner to make necessary arrangements for his visits. He also urged the mayor to accompany him in his special visit to high risk areas.

He directed the health department to make all their health facilities functional by appointing necessary staff. “I want to provide health services to all the people living in undeveloped areas,” the CM said. The chief minister said that in 2016 there were eight polio cases in Sindh and this year only one case had been reported.

The chief minister was told that people from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and FATA frequently visited Karachi. They are the careers of polio virus that’s why a new case has emerged in the city.

The chief minister, however, termed it a lame excuse.

He went on to say “KP and FATA are so far polio free areas. How can people bring polio virus from polio free zones,” he questioned and directed the health department, divisional administration and the other concerned departments to take drastic measures to control the situation.

It was pointed out in the meeting that positive environmental samples in Kambar were found in August 2017. The chief minister directed minister for health to remove district Health Officer (DHO) of Kambar immediately and report to him.

Fayaz Jatoi, while briefing the chief minister on situation in Karachi, said that polio virus transmission had re-established itself in Karachi. “Seven out of nine environmental sample sites in 2017 have been found positive. This is why a polio case has been detected in Gulshan-i-Iqbal after 19 months of a polio-free phase in Karachi,” he said.

The chief minister directed Mayor Karachi Waseem Akhtar to hold a meeting with all the chairmen of DMCs and give them clear instructions to mobilise their health department to fight against polio. He also directed Karachi commissioner to give him performance report of his deputy commissioners whether they were supporting polio teams or not.

Talking a policy decision, he said the promotions of DHOS and adl DHOs would be made on the basis of their performance. Murad said that operational weaknesses, increasing number of refusal and high migration from high risk areas were contributing factors of polio virus transmission.

Fayaz Jatoi said that in the city 152,406 children were still missed from polio vaccine. Giving their details he said 51,233 were not available in their homes when polio teams visited them, 24,970 refused and 76,203 missed.

The chief minister directed the additional IG Karachi Mushtaq Maher, health department and other concerned to ensure achieve the immunization target by hook or crook. “I’ll also visit them families refusing to take polio vaccine,” he said.

National Coordinator of Polio Programme Dr Rana Safdar said “we are in an uncomfortable position but we have the capacity to change the situation”. He added that there have been huge improvements in the programme over the last 3 years but there is still must to be done. Mayor of Karachi Waseem Akhtar proposed that an awareness drive with a video message of Sindh Chief Minister may be launched to address refusals in the city.

It may be noted that the next polio campaign in Sindh starts from the 16th of September in Karachi and 18th of September in all other districts of the province.

The total target population of under-five is 8.4 million children, including 2.3 million in Karachi. The preparations for this campaign are under way and the chief minister has directed districts administration and local bodies to make it a success.

An important development in the upcoming campaign is that the Directorate of Inspection and Registration of Private Institutions, School Education and Literacy Department of Government of Sindh has issued directive to all schools in the province that they are to cooperate with polio eradication teams and allow/facilitate them to vaccinate all children under 5 years of age on school premises.

Failure to do so would result in the cancellation of registration of the institution as per the Sindh Private Educational Institution (Regulation and Control Ordinance 2001, Amended Act 2003, ruled 2005.