Major anti-polio drive in Peshawar next month


PESHAWAR: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government will launch a massive immunisation campaign next month to provide oral polio vaccine to about 700,000 children in Peshawar district, officials say. The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leadership is busy in hammering out modus operandi of the campaign to be led by its chairman Imran Khan, they said, adding that it would be the biggest ever campaign in Peshawar, which is one of the five high-risk districts of the province. Last week Mr Khan had announced to lead the campaign after killing of two policemen protecting the vaccinators in Swabi and he subsequently inaugurated the drive in Nowshera.

According to the officials, the PTI will lead the vaccination drive in Peshawar to stop transmission of the virus within three months. The World Health Organisation has already declared Peshawar as a polio reservoir besides saying that all 11 polio cases recorded by Afghanistan in 2013 belonged to Peshawar.

Officials in the high-risk districts said that the federal government didn’t take interest in Mr Khan’s move though he had been widely acclaimed for lending his much-needed support to the campaign.

Pakistan has recorded a total of 76 polio cases in 2013 so far. Officials said that the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, which had so far recorded 53 cases, fell in the federal government’s jurisdiction. They said that Sindh had seven and Punjab six polio cases, which meant the problem persisted nationwide and the federal government was required to throw its weight behind the PTI chief.

The officials said that 16 volunteers and workers had been killed so far in attacks on polio campaign teams in the province. Relevant officials, who attended the meetings with key PTI leadership over the issue, told Dawn that a special action plan for Peshawar was being prepared to make the campaign a big success. “The campaign will be remembered as the biggest ever in Peshawar,” they said.

They noted that the sewage water samples collected from two points in Peshawar in the past three years had consistently been emerging positive for polio virus.

Although Peshawar has reported four of the total 10 polio cases in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa during the current year, it may not be the correct indicator to gauge the virus threat in the provincial capital. The presence of virus is not only putting the local children at risk, but the WHO says it poses danger of re-infection of children in countries long-declared polio-free.

The officials said that being a popular political leader the PTI chief’s support would be quite helpful in allaying fears and misconception about polio vaccine and would help the health department a great deal in overcoming the challenge.

“A new set of communication goals is being set and with Mr Khan personally leading the cause, we are certain that the challenge would be overcome,” they said.

The officials said that the PTI leadership would involve the community in vaccination campaign and after Peshawar the entire province would see similar campaigns.

They said that they needed a charismatic man like Imran because the health department didn’t have any understanding of the reasons why the miscreants had been attacking polio workers. They said that the miscreants might be under wrong impression that polio eradication was a foreign agenda of harming children of this country or that polio programme was used for espionage in Pakistan.

“We need Imran to remove such misconceptions,” said one of the officials.