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Polio vaccination drive: Hospitalisation of children proves farce

Top Story

April 23, 2019

PESHAWAR: Violent protesters set on fire a Basic Health Unit (BHU) in the Mashokhel village here on Monday after hundreds of children were hospitalised in the provincial capital allegedly due to reaction of polio vaccine.

But it proved farce later as Geo News ran two videos about the incident. In one video, a person is asking children while are sitting in a pick-up that they should act as if they are ill and that they are being shifted to hospital.

In another video, a person is wailing that if they don’t make their children to be vaccinated, police arrest them and if they do such is the condition of children, after that he instructs the boys, who are in school uniform, to lie on hospital bed and pretend to be unconscious, and the schoolchildren follow his instructions. Later, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chief secretary also termed the who episode a drama against the polio vaccination drive.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government on Monday launched a three-day anti-polio campaign in which thousands of polio workers were supposed to visit schools and madrassas to administer the oral polio vaccine to children between five to 10 years of age.

The campaign was taking place smoothly but all of a sudden some children of a private school in Peshawar's Madina Colony were brought to the Maulvi Jee Hospital on the GT Road with complaints of diarrhea, nausea and headache.

The Lady Reading Hospital (LRH), Khyber Teaching Hospital (KTH) and the Hayatabad Medical Complex (HMC) also received a huge number of children within no time. The news spread like wildfire in Peshawar and panicked parents started rushing their children to hospitals.

Mohammad Asim, the spokesman for LRH, said they received more than 3,500 children. Initially, parents were supposed to get an emergency slip though free of cost later when the hospital administration realised the spacious emergency hall could not accommodate the patients and their attendants, they were exempted from it.

The LRH spokesman said they had to call all staff members of the paediatric department along with trainees and even doctors of medicine department and trainees when it was felt that the paediatricians could not handle the situation.

The situation was at KTH and City Hospital on Kohat Road was no different. A state of emergency was declared in LRH and KTH to handle the mass emergency. All roads leading to LRH and KTH remained blocked due to heavy rush of people.

The KTH administration also called paediatricians and doctors of other departments to cope with the emergency. Farhad Khan, KTH media and protocol officer, told The News that more than 2,000 children were brought to the hospital and the number could further rise keeping in view the rush.

"It was a state of panic though some children had diarrhea and vomiting," he maintained. The HMC administration said they received more than 3,000 children. In Mashokhel village, some villagers became angry after their children allegedly got unconscious after being vaccinated. They stormed the local BHU and set it on fire.

Since the entire city was in the grip of rumours, in many places people came out of their homes and blocked main roads and pelted stones at passing vehicles and mishandled people. When reached for comments, a senior paediatrician said, "It seemed like a conspiracy." However, he admitted that some children had really developed problems.

Later on Monday night, Health Minister Dr Hisham Inamullah and Babar bin Atta, Prime Minister's Focal Person on polio, and Peshawar Police Chief Qazi Jameelur Rahman held a press conference and ruled out the impression that the vaccine had either expired or had any other problem.

"There is nothing wrong with the vaccine. It is procured in Indonesia under the supervision of prominent religious scholars. The same vaccine is being used elsewhere in Pakistan and nothing has reported so far against it," said Babar bin Atta.

During the briefing, he gave polio vaccine to Health Minister Hisham Inamullah, sitting next to him, as a gesture that there was nothing wrong with the vaccine. Meanwhile, central president of Pakistan Paediatric Association Prof Gohar Rahman came out in support of polio and termed it the only solution to get Pakistan rid of poliovirus.

"Since Pakistan has successfully eradicated other diseases through frequent vaccination campaigns, the only way to overcome polio is rigorous immunisation. However, it is obvious that only in Pakistan but all over the world, lobbies opposing anti-polio vaccination is getting stronger and stronger," explained president of the PPA.

Some of the paediatricians in Peshawar told The News that many parents from places other than Peshawar took their children to private clinics. One senior paediatrician said he didn't charge the children brought to his clinic from Bara in Khyber tribal district and other localities, saying some of the children had health issues.

"Actually children suffering from flue should not be given any type of vaccine and today I noticed most of the children brought to my clinic were administered vaccines despite the fact they had flue and sour throat," he opined.

He said the children brought to emergency of different hospitals were blindly treated and given same dose no matter if they needed or not but the doctors were helpless and could not refuse the worried and furious parents.

Meanwhile, the KP government took notice of the incident and formed a 10-memebr inquiry committee to probe into the matter and submit report within 48 hours. The government was invisible during initial two hours and some officials of the Health Department termed it propaganda against vaccination. Also, kids were brought to hospitals in Nowshera, Bajaur, Charsadda and some other districts after alleged reaction of polio vaccine.

Our correspondent adds from Islamabad: Earlier in the day, Prime Minister’s Focal Person for Polio Eradication Babar Bin Atta was immediately active on twitter as he tried to allay parental fears about polio vaccine’s efficacy in the wake of the Peshawar incident. In the first of this three tweets, Babar said, “Parents must know that it is a completely safe vaccine and this single incident being reported from particular school(s) in Peshawar while the whole country is in the national polio campaign, will be thoroughly investigated.”

In his second tweet, Babar claimed having had a conversation with Dr. Shehzad Akbar of Hayatabad Medical Complex, Peshawar, who told him that all children were stable and would probably be discharged the same day. “I assure parents that how polio vaccine allegedly caused reaction in particular school(s) will be investigated,” he repeated.

Then came the third tweet, in which Babar, whose own wife and children are currently based in Peshawar, said “Peshawar is my own city where I have spent 18 years of my life; these children are like my own family. We will go to the rock bottom of this matter. Investigations will be made public ASAP. The right now news is that all children are stable.”

The current campaign was preponed in two tehsils of district Jamshoro (Sehwan and Majhand) due to the urs of Hazrat Lal Shahbaz Qalandar.

As many as 39.4 million children under five years of age are being targeted in the campaign; of these 19.7 million in Punjab, 9 million in Sindh, 6.8 million in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (including tribal districts), 2.49 million in Balochistan, 0.36 million in Islamabad, 0.7 million in AJK and 0.24 million in Gilgit-Baltistan. Children aged between 5-10 years are also being targeted in all Union Councils (UCs) of Peshawar (0.83 million children), 12 UCs of Rawalpindi (65,478 children) and some areas in 11 UCs of Islamabad (8,416 children).

During this campaign, Vitamin-A Supplement is also being administered to 35.4 million children aged between 6-59 months to boost immunity against all infectious diseases.

A total of around 260,000 personnel are striving to achieve set targets across Pakistan; they include 27,114 Area In-charges, 8,021 UC Medical Officers, 197,472 Mobile, 10,394 Fixed and 13,310 Transit team members.

Considering its significance, the National Emergency Operations Centre has deployed 40 experts to facilitate preparedness and ground implementation of campaign activities by local teams in priority areas.