ISLAMABAD/RAWALPINDI: Though sad and shocking, the news of the killing of six polio vaccinators in Karachi and Peshawar did not stop the vaccination campaign in the twin cities on Tuesday.
Local authorities immediately called for extra security for their vaccination teams already out in the urban and rural areas of the two cities. While the three-day campaign to protect young children against the crippling disease started in Rawalpindi on Tuesday, it is to conclude in Islamabad on Wednesday.
“We have instructed all operational units of Islamabad police to beef up the security of polio teams. Every individual engaged in immunising children will be protected,” the deputy commissioner Amir Ali Ahmed told Dawn.
Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf strongly condemned the slaying of polio workers. In a statement he praised the work of the vaccination teams and asked regional authorities to guarantee their safety.
Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are the only countries in the world where polio is still prevalent. Elsewhere immunisation efforts have wiped out the disease.
Such efforts in Pakistan have suffered setbacks during the past one year because of resistance from religious hardliners and the Taliban who link their opposition to anti-polio campaigns with calls for an end to “US aggression” in the region and its drone attacks in tribal areas.
This mindset made inroads in some urban centres also. Last summer, Afghan and other migrants from tribal areas living in certain localities of Rawalpindi had turned back vaccination teams.
In view of the deadly attacks on the vaccinators in Karachi and Peshawar, and after reviewing the immunisation teams’ work on the first day of the anti-polio campaign, the Rawalpindi District Coordination Officer Saqib Zafar alerted the city police about possible dangers.
In a letter to CPO Azhar Hameed Khokar, the DCO listed 10 union councils of the district that the vaccinators considered “vulnerable”.
These included Ratta Amral, Pirwadhai, Ziaul Haq Colony, Dhoke Hassu and Dhoke Mangtal in the city; two wards of the Rawalpindi cantonment, Peshawar Road and adjoining areas, and two union councils in Taxila, Jala and Sarai Kala - as these areas witnessed “frequent movement of people” from troubled areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
About 695,000 children are to be administered anti-polio drops in the Rawalpindi district during the campaign which was to start on Monday but got delayed because the finger-marker arrived late from the World Health Organisation.
“Without the finger-marker identifying the immunised child, the exercise would have been useless,” Executive District Officer (Health) Dr Zafar Iqbal Gondal told Dawn.
Sadly, the areas where parents refused the vaccination to their children have witnessed a surge in polio cases, with ripple effects even in areas where the immunisation was welcomed.
It is not the first time that polio workers have suffered grievously at the hands of illogical minds and lost their lives.
A WHO official, Mohammad Ishaq, was shot dead in Karachi Gadap area on July 20, three days after a volunteer student of the International Islamic University was beaten up by a family in the Golra suburbs of Islamabad.
In the current campaign, some 480 male and female workers are to vaccinate about 200,000 children in the rural and urban parts of Islamabad.
Local officials however declined to say how many woman vaccinators were there.