Ashfaq Yusufzai Updated March 09, 2020
PESHAWAR: Frequent anti-polio campaigns have been causing increase in refusal cases with people turning against the oral polio vaccine (OPV) after developing apprehensions as to why the government is concerned about a disease which causes only disability and doesn’t care about other dangerous ailments.
The third campaign, starting from Monday (today) within three-month time, is likely to see more refusals due to the public’s fatigue with health workers who continue to knock doors to inoculate children, a senior official, told Dawn.
He said that there were only 38,000 refusal cases in January which rose to 51,000 in February in Peshawar district, one of the virus reservoirs in the country. The fresh drive will see more refusals, he said.
According to him, there were clusters where they recorded 500 refusals because they were unable to explain to the people about the logic for frequent polio vaccination and as a result the programme had virtually become a failure despite 25 years of the campaign.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had recorded 92 of 146 cases countrywide in 2019. It has recorded 12 cases of the total 25 countrywide in 2020 and is in the limelight at the global level as far polio eradication is concerned.
EOC coordinator says campaigns planned scientifically
Sources said that the UN agencies, including WHO and Unicef, spearheaded the Pakistan polio programme and schedule of the campaign without due regard for the local culture and issues.
“The workers have been putting their lives at stake to visit the hard areas. They are looked down upon by the parents,” they said.
To convince the people is the job of communication experts and those already working don’t have enough skills to explain to the parents that poliomyelitis is a disease which can be eradicated completely through administration of two drops of OPV to their children below five years of age.
In every campaign, the province records less than 100,000 refusals and vaccinate about six million children, but owing to poor communication the vicious circle continues, they said.
The sources said that the polio risk perception was very low in at the community level and people were of the belief that it wasn’t dangerous and as they did not have any repentance to let their children unimmunised.
A senior health official said that the government was helpless as the strategies were being made by people who didn’t know about local issues and as a result millions of dollars were spent, but without any success.
Sources said that about $1billion was being allocated for polio eradication in Pakistan from 2018 to 2021. They said that the amount also included loans and grants, but was spent through the UN.
They said that Pakistan was the only country with the UN-led anti-polio campaign as opposed to other countries where the government spearheaded the drive and the UN only provided technical support.
National Emergency Operation Centre, Islamabad, Coordinator Dr Rana Safdar said that the campaigns were planned scientifically to strategically benefit from vaccine maximally.
“The virus has been violent in 2019 and it is imperative to build immunity of our children quickly and before the summer sets in. We have three nationwide campaigns, two months apart (Dec, Feb and April).
He said that children residing in districts with the highest risk at present were provided additional opportunity in special response rounds that “we did in January and shall repeat in March”, he said.
Published in Dawn, March 9th, 2020