Refuseniks frustrate anti-polio efforts


PESHAWAR: The vaccination refusal cases continue to frustrate the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government’s fight against polio as 17,583 people didn’t allow health workers to administer anti-polio drops to their children in high-risk union councils of the IDP hosting districts during the recent campaign.

Among such people were internally displaced persons too.

The campaign had begun on June 23 and lasted three days.

The provincial health department vaccinated 94 per cent of the targeted 581,463 children i.e. 543,854 in Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan, Lakki Marwat, Tank, Karak and Hangu districts.

Over 17,580 didn’t let their children get vaccinated in recent campaign

Most of the vaccination refusal cases were reported in Bannu and Lakki Marwat.

Among those refusing the children’s vaccination were displaced families from North Waziristan, which has been reporting the most polio cases in the country due to the Taliban ban on vaccination since June 2012.

The relevant officials said there was no let-up in the continuous vaccination refusal cases, which posed serious threat to the anti-polio efforts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where around 35,000 children didn’t receive polio vaccine in every campaign.They said North Waziristan had reported 55 of the 88 nationwide polio cases in 2014.

According to the officials, around 160,000 unvaccinated children under the age of five as well as high vaccination refusal cases has made it really difficult for the relevant Khyber Pakhtunkhwa authorities to eradicate polio from the province though polio vaccine is administered to over five million children during the every vaccination campaign.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has recently drawn praise from the UN agencies for its Sehat Ka Insaf (health for all), a massive vaccination programme covering over 1.5 million children in the high-risk districts of Peshawar, Mardan, Charsadda and Swabi.

Though the samples of sewage water emerged negative for polio virus first time in two years in Peshawar, the endless spate of vaccination refusal is potential threat, the officials said.

They said Mardan had one polio case this year but 5,000 refusal cases there could thwart the government’s massive immunisation efforts in the shape of Sehat Ka Insaf programme.

“The first case recorded there was a chronic refusal case,” an official said, adding that Swabi and Charsadda had 4,000 refusal cases each. The official said children in the province had been vulnerable to the virus being transported by the affected minors from Bara tehsil of Khyber Agency as well as from Afghanistan. He said in the past, polio virus from Khyber agency and Afghanistan had been found in Peshawar.

“The health department’s requests to the federal government, which directly governs Fata for vaccination, hasn’t found positive response,” he said.

Until now this year, Fata has reported 66 polio cases, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 15 and Sindh seven.

Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are the main polio-endemic regions, which are in focus as for the global polio eradication efforts.

Bannu, which is home to displaced population, has already suffered due to unvaccination of children in North Waziristan.

Four of the district’s nine children have been affected by the virus from North Waziristan.

Now, the mass exodus triggered by the military operation in the agency has increased the risk of Bannu children being affected by the crippling virus, the officials said.

They said children of other southern districts too weren’t safe, where the displaced families lived.

The officials, however, said the mass displacement from North Waziristan had given an opportunity to vaccinate the people against polio in the province.

They said the health department had been vaccinating all displaced population irrespective of their age but the provincial government was concerned about vaccination refusal as well as migration of polio-infected children.

The officials said even Peshawar where most of the mobilisation efforts were concentrated was showing no sign of improvement with regard to refusal cases.

They said Bannu was known to have over 15,000 recorded refusal cases among local population.

The officials said health workers had vaccinated 303 displaced persons in Kohat and Peshawar but the main task was to ensure vaccination of all targeted children.