Wednesday July 17, 2024

Polio refusals on the rise despite eradication efforts

By Bureau report
July 10, 2024
A health worker, escorted by a police officer, administers polio vaccine drops to a child during a vaccination campaign in Peshawar. — AFP/File
A health worker, escorted by a police officer, administers polio vaccine drops to a child during a vaccination campaign in Peshawar. — AFP/File

PESHAWAR: Though the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government and polio workers are striving to vaccinate children against the crippling disease, the number of missed children is growing steadily.

The untiring efforts of the provincial government, national and international organisations and polio workers have helped Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to achieve the title of a polio-free province this year.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s record in terms of bringing improvement to the vaccination rate has improved compared to the past, according to the provincial Emergency Operation Centre (EOC).

Those associated with the programme defended their strategy of eradicating the disease by countering multiple challenges. In 2023, KP had reported four polio cases. “Luckily, no case has been reported in KP over the last six months,” an official of the polio programme said.

However, they admit facing a number of challenges and difficulties to eradicate polio.Besides other challenges, refusals from parents, mostly based on misconceptions and lack of awareness, is a major issue which the polio workers had been facing in KP, particularly in the southern districts and tribal districts.

According to the data of the EOC, around 21,459 children were not vaccinated in two polio campaigns conducted in April and June, 2024. Overall in KP, the polio workers were not able to reach children in 18 union councils, in the two consecutive polio campaigns.

Bannu district is still the most troubled spot for polio workers due to a host of issues.In Bannu district bordering the restive North Waziristan, 5720 parents had refused administering oral polio vaccines to children, which is the highest number of refusals reported from a single district.

Following Bannu, Lower South Waziristan has become a difficult place for the polio workers. In Lower South Waziristan, there are remote mountainous areas where the polio workers have been facing serious security and administrative challenges to reach households to vaccinate the children against the crippling disease.

In Lower South Waziristan, 6249 children from eight union councils could not be reached for vaccination in the two consecutive campaigns. In Lakki Marwat district, which has also been proved one of most vulnerable areas for the polio workers to reach out to children.

In these areas, according to official sources, there is always a war-like situation when a polio drive is launched, involving a large number of law-enforcement personnel.According to the EOC, the nature of demand for polio vaccines has changed now.

Previously, people would refuse vaccines to their children due to misconceptions about the vaccine, religious beliefs. The people of every district have different demands in return for polio vaccines.

They said people were now demanding them to resolve their disputes, mostly land boundary issues, in Bannu and Kurram.In Lakki Marwat, the residents demanded royalty of natural resources produced in their district.

In North Waziristan, where 482 children were missed in the two campaigns, the residents demanded compensation from the government following surveys of their losses during the military operation in 2014.In Lower South Waziristan, the people made multiple demands including land boundary dispute and water supply scheme.