ISLAMABAD, Dec 19: The senseless killing of eight polio workers in the past two days may move the government’s door-to-door polio vaccination programme to the confines of hospitals.
Shahnaz Wazir Ali, special assistant to the prime minister on social sector, hinted so much on Wednesday when Dawn asked her if the strategy would be changed to protect the vaccinating teams in the field.
“We will consider the option to vaccinate every child missing the polio drops through our BHUs, RHCs and public sector hospitals,” she said, referring to the Basic Health Units and Rural Health Centres across the country.
“Despite the threats, we have to continue our work to save our children from the crippling disease,” she said.
After discussing the option with the technical staff and polio teams, she said she would coopt the private sector hospitals in the national effort to rid Pakistan of polio virus completely.
Vaccination is key to controlling the disease and while the staff and volunteer vaccinators are hesitant to venture out after the spate of mindless killings of their colleagues, the parents remain concerned as they know that vaccination is key to protecting their children from the ravages of polio.
Khawar Zaman and his wife were dismayed when the anti-polio team did not turn up at their house in sector G-8/1 of Islamabad.
“Can somebody tell me where to take my little Huma to have the polio drops,” he was found asking. “I would have taken her to Pims or Polyclinic but am told they don’t have the polio vaccine.”
In the same neighbourhood, Ayesha Safdar was worried that her three small children won’t get polio drops at home. “I will be happy to take them to a hospital for the same, if the drops are available there,” she said. But she would be happier if the door-to-door vaccination campaign resumed.
But vaccinator Faiza Ahmed in the adjoining Rawalpindi city is no more willing to resume her mission.
“How can I when our colleagues are gunned down? For what? For saving children from a horrible, crippling disease? I prefer my safety to the Rs1,000 that we get for three-day polio campaign,” she told Dawn.
Faiza, not her real name, was among 35 female vaccinators who refused to join the vaccination teams on the second day of the campaign.
Ninety women vaccinators were assigned to administer polio drops in what were designated as “the 10 high risk union councils,” inhabited mostly by migrants from Afghanistan and tribal areas.
District health officials however managed to carry on the vital vaccination work with skeleton staff.
In Ward No. 6 of cantonment areas, including Peshawar Road and area adjoining it, 10 field teams refused to go out, citing security concerns. All the 20 members of the teams were volunteers.
“It is a noble task but we cannot risk our lives at the hands of mindless people,” said a male vaccinator who would not give his name.
“But for the security concerns, I would be too glad to continue the good work,” he added.
After seeing the fear, particularly among the female vaccinators, District Coordination Officer Saqib Zafar, and health department officials, decided to visit the more vulnerable areas to reassure the field staff.
A senior supervisor of the polio campaign told Dawn, on condition of anonymity, that female vaccinators had called him to say that their families were not allowing them to go to work following the slayings of polio workers in Karachi and Peshawar.
He said he had to arrange the alternatives hastily. Some reluctant vaccinators joined the campaign later in the day when their colleagues informed about the police protection.
Nurses of Holy Family Hospital attached with the polio teams also demanded police protection for their bus from their hostel to the work places assigned to them.
Focal Person of Polio team Dr Farhat Ahmed arranged the police escort.
One the instructions from the Punjab government the Rawalpindi police agreed to provide four police guards to each polio team serving the high-risk localities.
Dr Zafar Iqbal Gondal, Executive District Officer Health, has said that the polio campaign would continue in the district. “We have made all the arrangements to make the polio campaign a success,” he said.