Islamabad - At an emergency high-level meeting held Thursday to revisit security plans for immunisation teams, it was decided to involve armed forces during anti-polio drives wherever the district administrations feels necessary.   

Minister for National Health Services Saira Afzal Tarar chaired the polio security meeting in the backdrop of fatal attacks on polio workers in Mansehra and Bajour in the recent national anti-polio drive.

The meeting reviewed different proposals and options for risk mitigation and harm reduction of the polio teams. It was agreed to recommend to the Cabinet Committee on Immunisation that provinces be asked to seek help from civil and armed forces wherever necessary to ensure an impermeable security cordoning of campaign areas.

The meeting was attended besides others by representative of armed forces, representative of Ministry of Interior. Secretary, Ministry of National Health Services Muhammad Ayub Sheikh was also present on the occasion alongside key officials of Ministry of National Health Services and Polio Emergency Program.

Saira Afzal Tarar expressing shock and dismay at recent incidents said there was a need to revisit the polio security strategy as such attacks continue unabated and they are part of spate of terrorism unleashed by miscreants who are now on the run and attacking soft targets.

Earlier, the involvement of armed forces in vaccination drives was limited to North, South Waziristan and Khyber Agency in Fata. But after the prime minister’s letter to army chief in November last year in which he sought the army support in polio emergency plan, its involvement increased and UAE vaccination assistance programme is being implemented by army in Fata, KP, Quetta and Karachi. And, with the decision taken in the meeting authorities at the district level will be stressed to involve armed forces if they deem it necessary to make sure the safety of vaccination teams.  

It was also stressed that campaign and security plan should not be made in isolation and be prepared with the consultation of law enforcement agencies.

Director General National Crisis Management Cell, Ministry of Interior, Saud Aziz, gave a detailed briefing on polio-related security incidents and coordination being made with regard to polio security by Ministry of Interior with provincial governments.

Representative of the armed forces briefed the meeting on the support being provided by the armed forces in the polio eradication effort.

It was agreed to recommend to the Cabinet Committee on Immunisation responsible for polio security that a post incident inquiry be conducted in the event of any polio-related attack. The inquiry will be conducted by a team comprising a representative of Ministry of Interior, an official from the intelligence agencies, a representative of the District Police Officer and an expert representing the polio programme.

The inquiry will determine the case, fix responsibility if a lapse in security arrangements is identified and make recommendations to avoid recurrence. Provinces will be requested to develop detailed security plans based on ground realities. Saira Afzal Tarar said she would personally visit the provinces soon to facilitate finalisation of the security plans that are consistent with requirements on ground.