KARACHI, Feb 15: While a five-day mop-up polio vaccination campaign ended on Friday in Bin Qasim Town without any violent incident, the drive exposed gaps in government strategy and raised serious questions over its commitment and success of an immunisation drive scheduled to begin shortly across the country.
Contrary to what the government had claimed in official meetings, delayed arrival of vaccine at targeted areas and inadequate security hampered the efforts on the first and second day of the door-to-door campaign, sources said, adding that no security was provided to vaccinators on the concluding day.
At least two vaccinators complained of having been threatened during the five-day drive.
“One of the vaccinators was threatened on her way back home whereas the other was administering polio drops to a child at a home when her uncle, who had accompanied her in the absence of official security, saw an armed person and alarmed her. They had to flee from the spot. The incident took place on Road No 6 in Cattle Colony,” said a town health official while speaking to Dawn.
A number of polio teams, he said, had to be on their own during the initial days due to inadequate police personnel providing security to the teams.
However, according to the staff, delayed delivery of the vaccine was a major setback.
The vaccine, which was supposed to be delivered to vaccinators before 8am, was brought at noon, sapping their vigour, said a team member. “There was no arrangement for any refreshment either.”
The staffer was of the opinion that lack of coordination between the EPI (Extended Programme for Immunisation) cell of the government and World Health Organisation staff was responsible for the delay in vaccine delivery.
Referring to the government meetings held before the start of the mop-up campaign in the town, he said that a number of promises were made in the meetings but little was delivered.
“I can’t ask a volunteer to risk her life for Rs250,” said another town health staffer while sharing his grievances.
It is noteworthy that the mop-up campaign in Bin Qasim Town after a two-year-old resident of Cattle Colony, Musharraf, was diagnosed with polio virus — this year’s first case in the country.
The campaign was run in five union councils (namely UC 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7) during which more than 6,000 children were vaccinated against the virus, while more than 50 families refused to get their children vaccinated during the first three days.
Top officials, including the Sindh EPI director and the executive director health, were not available for comments on the issue. Also representatives of non-governmental organisations, including those of the WHO, did not attend phone calls.
The polio case
A town health department staff said: “It has been more than 10 days since the child was diagnosed with polio but we haven’t got his report from the National Institute of Health, Islamabad, so far though we do get reports with negative result immediately.
“The child walks and runs apparently without difficulty. He had no history of fever and one of the paediatricians who had examined the child said his body didn’t have polio clinically.”
Rejecting this view, Dr Anita Zaidi, Professor and Chair, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, Aga Khan University, who had also examined the child, said: “Musharraf does have polio. It’s the P1 strain that has been confirmed by the NIH.”
The child had mild residual paralysis and some weakness but doctors didn’t know the full extent before six weeks, she said.
“Sometimes full recovery is possible and we are hoping for a full recovery in him after we have connected him with an AKUH physiotherapist for rehab exercises.”
According to Dr Zaidi, only one in 200 polio infections become symptomatic. “Their importance is that they silently spread to others and this child is definitely symptomatic. His father confirmed that the child had never been vaccinated.”
Visit to child’s home
A visit to the child’s home revealed that though currently Musharraf is slightly affected by the crippling disease, his father, Usman, a labourer, had suffered much in life because one of his legs got atrophied due to polio in his childhood.
“Two of my children were vaccinated but not the younger ones. It’s after I heard about the fake polio campaign run by Dr Shakeel Afridi that I came to believe that foreign powers had some plans to harm Muslims through vaccination drives and since then I refused to get my children vaccinated,” he said.
However, he said, he changed his mind after a body of religious leaders had given a fatwa in favour of vaccination.
Suggesting how to make the vaccination drive successful, Usman, a Pashto-speaking person, said it was necessary to care about the sensitivities of religious persons when one approached them. “If educated and mature women are involved in the campaign, there is no reason it couldn’t succeed,” he said while recommending that young girls shouldn’t be involved in the vaccination drive.