PESHAWAR: The highly-paid communication officers recently hired by the Unicef to counter refusal cases in polio vaccination campaigns in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are considering not to run the drive due to threats that emerged after the killing of an official in Karachi.
The decision by communication officers to stop the campaign in KP came after media reports that the Unicef officials in Karachi had declined to perform duties in wake of security threats, where an official of the World Health Organisation (WHO) was killed and another injured.
The Unicef recently hired communication officers to counter refusals by reluctant parents in KP and other segments of society opposed to the vaccination drive due to a host of reasons.
Senior officials of the Unicef told The News they had received reports from different parts of the province that Social Mobilizers and Union Council Communication Officers were finding it difficult to convince the reluctant families in the wake of the association of polio campaign with the role of Dr Shakeel Afridi.
Pleading anonymity, the officials said Dr Shakeel did not use the polio campaign to help CIA track down Osama bin Laden in his Bilal Town in Abbottabad, but even then people were suspecting their activities.
“We are recording a sharp increase in the number of families that refused to get children vaccinated after Taliban imposed a ban on polio drive in North Waziristan due to Dr Shakeel’s alleged involvement in carrying out fake polio campaign in Abbottabad,” said a District Health Communication Support Officer who wished to remain anonymous.
According to officials, parental fatigue and too much pressure by Unicef on the officials to counter refusals was resulting in the parents thinking negatively about the campaign.
“What can we do if Dr Shakeel propaganda is not losing momentum and all the efforts of the communication officers are directed towards cricketer Shahid Afridi,” said one of the communication officers.
He was of the opinion that spending US$ 700,000 by Unicef on highlighting Shahid Afridi has had no impact and that after the mass media campaign, the question of Dr Shakeel Afridi was put much more times to the Social Mobilizers and other communication officials.
“Initially only educated families were asking us about Dr Shakeel, but now the poor and uneducated people ask us first about him when we go for campaign,” remarked one of the communication officers.
About the decision of Unicef officials in Karachi to boycott polio drive in case they were forced to go in the field, they said the officials of KP stood by the decision of the Karachi officials and a similar decision would be taken if security to the staff in KP was not ensured.
Regarding the increasing number of refusals by parents in the province, the officials said that staffer was effectively countering old refusals but the issue was with the fresh wave of such cases.
“Sometimes we convince families but when polio campaign begins they again refuse drops to kids due to misconception in their minds. It takes three to four campaigns before any family can be fully convinced,” an official said.
He felt too much focus and money being pumped into polio rounds in the name of mass media campaigns and stars like cricketer Shahid Afridi was negatively impacting the initiative as the core issue of Dr Shakeel Afridi still remained unaddressed.
“The similarity of the names of Dr Shakeel Afridi and Shahid Afridi is also an issue because it may be reminding parents about Shakeel Afridi,” said an official.