The anti-polio drive launched here in the district on Monday may yield better output, as the concerned government authorities have taken an initiative to take population with Pakhtun origin in confidence though the step was not made public.
‘The News’ has learnt through reliable sources that a Pakhtun ‘Loyya Jirga’ was held here in a local hotel two days back, on Saturday that was attended by nearly one hundred Pakhtun notables belonging to areas of the district with significantly heavy Pakhtun population.
The city district government along with the provincial and federal level stakeholders facilitated the Jirga to take Pakhtun population in confidence on the subject of administration of anti-polio vaccine to children below five years of age. The initiative has been taken for the first time in the district.
Normally, it is an impression that Pakhtun population is resistant to administration of polio vaccine to their children mainly because of three reasons, which were discussed in detail in the Jirga. Many Pakhtuns say that the polio vaccine contains ‘haram’ material, causes impotence in males and is substandard.
Health professionals from district, provincial and federal government negotiated with the Pakhtun notables to remove their concerns. After negotiations, the Pakhtun notables assured the health professionals that they would help administer polio vaccine to their children along with children of the families living under their influence.
Pakhtun notables were from union councils one to 10 of Rawal Town, Wards 9 and 10 of cantonment board and from five union councils with heavy Pakhtun population in Tehsil Taxila. It is learnt that the Loyya Jirga was not made public because of security reasons.
“A three-day anti-polio drive has been launched here in the district under Sub-National Immunisation Day (SNID) on Monday that would be followed by two-day mop-up activity on Thursday and Friday,” said District Health Officer Dr. Khalid Randhawa while talking to ‘The News’ on Monday.
When asked, he admitted that a Pakhtun Loyya Jirga was held here in town and in the light of its proceedings; he can claim that the current anti-polio campaign would yield better results as compared to the performance of the health department in the past. “We may achieve the set target of administering anti-polio drops to over 95 per cent children below five years of age in the district if Pakhtun population cooperates with the health department’s teams,” said Dr. Randhawa.
It is important that internationally, the target set for coverage under the EPI is above 95 per cent though none of the districts in Punjab including Rawalpindi managed to achieve the target during the last year, in 2012. According to the third party evaluation, the average coverage of the Punjab under the EPI is around 57 per cent while it is nearly 75 per cent in Rawalpindi district.
To a query, Dr. Randhawa said that a number of steps are being taken to strengthen EPI coverage in the region. Special Secretary Health Punjab chaired a divisional level meeting last month here in town to discuss measures needed for strengthening of the EPI coverage in the four districts of Rawalpindi division including Rawalpindi, Jhelum, Attock and Chakwal and the organisation of Pakhtun Loyya Jirga was a special initiative to improve the EPI coverage, he said.