ISLAMABAD, Jan 30: As the nation-wide polio campaign commenced to contain the crippling virus, reports came in of the detection of two more cases. The latest polio victims bring the total number of detected cases in the first month of 2012 to seven.
The three-day drive for eradication of polio, which ends on February 1, is expected to target some 35 million children under the age of five.
A senior federal official close to the developments told Dawn : “The Prime Minister`s team that was engaged in conducting and monitoring of the campaign in different parts of the country was initially unaware of the emergence of the two new cases.”
The senior federal official said that both cases were of type 1 strain of polio virus and were detected in the districts of Lakki Marwat and Dera Ismail Khan.
Dr Nima Abid, the team leader for WHO Polio project in Pakistan, elaborated: “The child from Dera Ismail Khan lives in the village of Ramak Mohallah Ghazar, union council Miran of tehsil Parova. According to the parents, the child had received at least seven doses of the Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) in different campaigns as well as the three routine shots. But somehow he still managed to contract the disease.”
The federal government official said that of the seven cases, two have been detected from Quetta district in Balochistan, and one each from Mirpurkhas district in Sindh and Peshawar, Lakki Marwat, Dera Ismail Khan and Kohat districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
“In most cases, the parents refused to let their children be immunised because they believed the vaccination campaign was fake. This perception has gained popularity ever since the US raid at the al-Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden`s hideout in Abbottabad,” the official claimed.
It is pertinent to mention here that after the May 4 operation last year, Unicef`s polio eradication unit chief Dennis J. King had expressed concerns over the poor credibility of Pakistan`s largest public sector health initiative.
A polio team official seconded this: “The area (Lakki Marwat) from where the latest case has emerged is included in the list of high risk union councils due to weak service delivery and the high number of refusals.”
Meanwhile, as the future of innocent children was at stake, the focal person for the federal government on Polio, Dr Shehnaz Wazir Ali, was ignorant of the latest developments.
“I think the number is five. I am not aware of the detection of new polio cases,” she said in response to a query about the new cases that emerged on Sunday.
When Dawn asked her whether the government had looked into the high refusal rates because of the fake vaccination campaign allegedly conducted by Dr Shakil Afridi, Ms Wazir replied: “I don`t know who Dr Shakil Afridi….the Americans would have a clue to that and whether he has anything to do with the OBL raid.”
Currently, Dr Afridi is in the custody of intelligence agencies and is facing treason charges.
When inquired about the veracity of the allegations levelled by Unicef against the Government of Pakistan that it was not a polio campaign instead a hepatitis vaccination drive that ultimately led to the capture of the al-Qaeda chief, she said: “Ask Unicef as to why they made such a statement…I will again say I am not aware which campaign it was.”
However, all doubts aside Ms Wazir is hopeful that if the current polio vaccination drive is successful, the virus will be clipped by 2014.
“All we can do is try and ensure that all children are targeted and hopefully the media will see positive results [no more polio cases].”
Ms Wazir though clearly needs to realise that the polio endemic is still strong and there is more than wishful thinking such as addressing and allaying the concerns with the immunisation campaigns that will see the last of it.