KARACHI, Sept 10: A three-day anti-polio campaign under the sub-national immunisation days (SNIDs) began in Karachi on Monday amid security concerns for front-line polio eradication workers and non-payment of their dues.
Sources privy to the immunisation activities in the city said the administration of oral polio vaccine (OPV) to children up to the age of five years could not be carried out in three of the 59 high-risk union councils because of security concerns. A fresh anti-polio drive would be held in the three union councils to reach about 44,000 children later this month.
While the civil administration in view of its inability to provide an adequate security cover to the polio workers and vaccinators in the UC-4 of Gadap Town had already called for the postponement of the anti-polio drive till Sept 22, vaccination activity was stopped in UC-2 of Baldia Town due to harassment caused to polio workers earlier in the day.
Polio activities could not be kicked off as per plan in UC-8 of Gulberg Town on Monday due to bad weather coupled with inadequate security arrangements for polio staff, particularly in the wake of killing of polio workers in UC-4 of Gadap in July.
Both the Gulberg and Gadap union councils where polio activities are pending are situated on either side of the Lyari river in the Sohrab Goth and Shafiq Mills areas.
The presence of poliovirus in the sewage samples collected from the Lyari river in Gadap was confirmed for the last time in July, a development that called for 100 per cent immunisation of children against polio in the two union councils of Gulberg and Gadap, said a doctor working in the area.
According to SNIDs plan, about 828,500 children in 59 selected high-risk union councils were to be given the OPV during the three-day campaign.
The town health officer of Gulberg, Dr Shahnaz Bano, told Dawn that a last-minute decision to withhold the polio drive in the only union council (part of UC-4) selected for the immunisation drive in her town was taken unanimously by all stakeholders, including the civil administration. “Our staff were also unwilling to carry out the assignment without proper security cover and in the absence of public mobilisation activities this time,” she said, adding that now the drive would be launched on Sept 22, when a deferred polio drive would be carried out again in UC-4 of Gadap.
The town health officer of Baldia, Dr Arif Niaz, said anti-polio activities began peacefully in the whole of Baldia. However, the situation changed immediately in UC-2 where a doctor involved in polio vaccination duty was chased by armed motorcyclists who were finally interrupted by another team of polio workers, he said, adding the authorities decided to postpone the campaign in the union council.
UC-2 was one of the few UCs where polio workers refused to resume polio duties in protest over the non-payment of their wages for the July vaccination campaign.
Dr Niaz said about 750 workers and vaccinators were, however, persuaded to work on the assurance that some of their dues would be cleared by Tuesday morning.
The agitating workers argued that they could not open bank accounts just to receive a seasonal emolument of Rs1,000 from the World Health Organisation.
According to the Keamari THO, Dr Ashraf Saeeduzzaman, workers in some parts of the UC designated for the campaign resented the payment of wages through banks and refused to join the vaccination drive in the morning. However, government paramedical staff were called in from other UCs to overcome the shortage of vaccinators, she said, adding that women workers feared harassment in some areas and there was a need to beef up security in the three UCs.
The Gadap deputy town health officer, Mohammad Rafi Mughal, said that campaign in all union councils but UC-4 in his town began peacefully on Monday. However, the overall environment was shrouded in fear and possible refusal of parents in his town, he said and added that the workers and supervisors would take some time to regain confidence.
Two polio vaccinators in UC-12 of Gulshan-i-Iqbal, Muzammil Sattar and Ramiz A. Soomro, said that during the previous four-and-a-half hours they had administered the OPV to 88 children, while a dozen households refused to have their children vaccinated. It was said that 10 other children had either been at school or had shifted to other places.
A WHO spokesperson said the WHO had introduced a couple of months back a “direct disbursement mechanism” to pay the front-line polio eradication workers directly in at least four towns of Karachi with other districts in the country.