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August 8, 2019

Five more polio cases in KP

Top Story

August 8, 2019

PESHAWAR: Amid tough refusals from parents, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on Wednesday reported five more polio cases, taking the tally this year to 53 in the country.

With the latest five cases, the number of polio cases in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa reached 41. Of these, nine cases were reported from the merged districts. According to officials, Bannu continued to remain a troubled spot in terms of polio outbreak and reported three more cases.

In KP, Bannu alone reported 21 polio cases, followed by Torghar with five cases. Charsadda district that remained safe until now also reported first polio case this year. The other polio case was reported from North Waziristan bordering Bannu.

In the tribal districts, North Waziristan reported seven polio cases while one each case has been reported from Bajaur and Khyber. Polio outbreak has exposed poor strategy of the federal and provincial governments to curtail the poliovirus.

Senior government officials told The News that a number of reasons led to the polio outbreak but misconception as well as the mounting number of refusals had dealt a severe blow the polio programme in KP.

They said that lack of accountability and political interference in the strategy were stated to be other major reasons that prevented the government from controlling the virus.

“In Peshawar, our teams cannot go out to vaccinate children. In the provincial capital the authorities could not make a strategy to overcome growing refusals mainly based on misconceptions about polio vaccine,” said an official of the provincial health department.

He said most of the polio cases reported so far were due to refusals and misconception. Another official in the polio programme said they were paying the price for mistakes made in the past.

“Actually we unnecessarily celebrated polio eradication in 2017 and did not focus on polio programme. It was too early to claim polio-free status and the result was the outbreak in 2018 and 2019,” he observed.

He said KP would continue to report polio cases by the end of summer. “In summer you can curtail polio virus but cannot eradicate it. This is its transmission season and I believe it can be eradicated in the winter,” said the official of polio programme on condition of anonymity.

“There is a dire need for accountability in the programme (polio). Every time when samples of the children are sent to the laboratory, the staff appears with claims that the children received six or seven doses. But in the laboratory it is proved that the child has not received a single dose,” he said.

He said the government would need to introduce drastic changes in its communication strategy to counter the propaganda and misconception among the people. “There is not alone print and electronic media to be handled. Millions of dollars of foreign donors are being spent on communication but they are yet to reach the real people, the community on the ground. Until and unless you talk to the unwilling parents and answer their questions, poliovirus will continue to cripple children,” the official opined.

Also, insiders of the programme said that political interference was another issue hampering efforts to eradicate the virus. “Recently three senior level officials, including director EPI, director health services tribal districts and additional director EPI for ex-Fata were replaced without any reason or complaints against them. They were trained officials and knew their job better than others. Now new officials would come and replace them and they would take time to learn about their responsibilities,” said the government official.