Thousands of children in the troubled regions of North West Frontier Province and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)were not vaccinated against polio during a recent campaign, thanks to unrelenting opposition from conservative elements.
According to health officials, vaccinators were unable to administer polio drops to around 39,498 children during the three-day campaign launched on Aug 19. However, most of the children were later covered during a monitoring campaign, but still 8,825 children were not immunised mainly in Mohmand Agency, Malakand and Lakki Marwat.
In the Mohmand tribal area, parents put up some demands in return for allowing vaccination, the officials said, adding that the demands ranged from release of prisoners, supply of water and electricity and construction of roads.
"Most of the people opposing the polio drops have a misconception that it causes infertility and impotence." Some people in Peshawar too did not allow their children to be vaccinated.
We all have to play our full role to turn the dream of a polio-free Pakistan into reality," Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani had urged while launching the mass immunisation campaign on Aug 19.
As of 12 August, 27 cases have occurred in 2008, compared to 32 cases in all of 2007, he had pointed out.
The primary areas of indigenous poliovirus transmission in Pakistan are the provinces of North-West Frontier, Balochistan, and Sindh, which includes Karachi. Transmission in North-West Frontier and Balochistan is mostly due to the highly mobile population and people living in areas of insecurity, earlier reports had said.
The resurgence of polio cases in Sindh is mainly the result of operational challenges. In response, Federal Minister for Health Sherry Rehman has directed the ministry to strengthen dialogue with provincial and district level authorities and more effectively coordinate polio immunization efforts with the health, education, and family welfare departments.
In addition, the Sindh government is taking several steps to make the province polio-free, including -
Conducting Subnational Immunization Days every month
Involving religious leaders in social mobilization efforts to persuade families to have their children immunized
Promoting the importance of child immunization in the news media
Carrying out mop-up campaigns to immunize children previously missed
In June, The Rotary Foundation awarded US$5.9 million to the World Health Organization and UNICEF for social mobilization activities and operational support in Pakistan.
Rotary clubs are also increasing their participation in Pakistan's effort to end polio. "All [Rotarian] volunteers have been instructed to personally join the polio vaccinating teams, especially in remote areas of the country, to make sure that no children remain unattended by the teams," said Almas Ali Jovinda, of the Rotary Club of Lahore Mozang.