Wednesday July 06, 2022

Fake polio marking scam unearthed in KP: officials

May 28, 2022

At least 8,000 children up to the age of five years have been identified in southern districts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province who did not receive even a single dose of oral polio vaccine (OPV) this year due to alleged collusion between refusing parents, vaccinators, area incharges and other staff of the polio eradication initiative, The News learnt on Friday.

“We have so far identified 8,000 children in 22 union councils in North Waziristan, Bannu, Tank and the adjoining areas who were deprived of the oral polio vaccine by fake marking during the last six to seven vaccination drives. Unfortunately, polio vaccinators and their incharges’ collusion has been found in this scam,” an official of the National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination (NHSR&C) told this scribe.

This revelation came at a time when Pakistan’s National Polio Laboratory at the National Institute of Health, Islamabad, confirmed the detection of two more ‘Type-1 Wild Polioviruses’ (WPV1) from stool specimens of an 18-month-old-girl and another 18-month-old-boy, both from Mir Ali Tehsil, North Waziristan. The girl had onset of paralysis on May 10, 2022, while the boy had onset of paralysis on May 11, 2022.

This makes a total of six wild poliovirus cases confirmed this year in Pakistan. The new cases have been reported from Tehsil Mir Ali, one each from UC2 and UC7, making it the 4th and 5th case from Mir Ali Tahsil at large. All the six cases reported in 2022 have been confirmed from North Waziristan district officials.

The NHS official said that as suspected, the preliminary reports suggest that both cases are zero doses for routine immunization due to family refusal, while they got some OPV doses during polio campaigns, which will be confirmed during an ongoing detailed investigation. The genetic sequencing of both cases is awaited and will be updated as soon as received, he added.

“The collusion between the polio staff and the refusing parents came to surface when it emerged that the first child crippled by the wild poliovirus had reportedly received seven plus doses of OPV. It is near to impossible that a child still gets infected by the poliovirus despite receiving such a large number of polio vaccine doses,” the NHS official said.

He said that during the interview with the father of the crippled child, it emerged that on his request, fake marking was done on the finger of the child without giving him OPV and it was done several times during the last one year, when the child was not given a single vaccine dose but the polio vaccinators reported the child as vaccinated.

“Ironically, the area incharge of the polio drive was a maternal uncle of the child, who helped in faking the record and showing the child as vaccinated,” the official added.

As more polio cases started emerging from the North Waziristan area, it emerged that thousands of children were deprived of the polio vaccine drops in North and South Waziristan, Dera Ghazi Khan, Bannu, Tank and Lucky Marwat, while officials of the National Emergency Operations Center (NEOC) relied on “fake reports” coming out of the area, where it was reported that over 95 per cent children were being vaccinated during each campaign.

The NHS feared that poliovirus might have travelled to all the areas in the country which these refusing parents visited. The practice of “fake marking” and collusion between refusing parents and polio vaccinators had also been identified in some areas of Karachi and Pashtun areas of Balochistan, bordering Afghanistan.

But officials at the NOEC, which is responsible for the polio eradication in Pakistan, claimed that only 5-10 per cent children had failed to receive oral polio vaccine drops due to “fake marking”. They added that action had already been initiated to identify the culprits in the programme and take them to task.

Responding to queries from The News, an NEOC official said an investigation was underway to track the missed children as well as polio vaccinators and other staff involved in the practice. He added that parents don’t realise that every time they refuse vaccination or mark their child’s finger without giving them the polio drops during polio campaigns, they are exposing their children to lifelong disabilities.

According to the NEOC, the southern districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, including North and South Waziristan, DI Khan, Bannu, Tank and Lakki Marwat, are at the highest risk of wild poliovirus. Bannu also reported two positive environmental samples between April and May this year, confirming that ongoing wild poliovirus transmission is not limited to North Waziristan.