ISLAMABAD, Dec 21: In a major blow to the government efforts to eliminate the crippling disease, over 3.5 million children were missed out during the latest anti-polio campaign across the country.
This is in sharp contrast to the drive in October when only 0.5 million children could not be reached for vaccination.
According to the data compiled by the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) and the prime minister’s polio cell and provided to Dawn, most of the over 3.5 million children could not be vaccinated during the December 17-19 drive because of security reasons.
This month’s campaign remained difficult after the killing of female vaccinators across the country on December 17, the first day of the drive.
According to the data, the authorities had set the target of 18.49 million children for vaccination. However, a total only 14.94 children were able to get the anti-polio drops.
In many parts of the country, female workers refused to join the campaign due to insecurity. Later, they started work but under the security provided to them by the respective district administrations.
The Sindh government stopped the anti-polio campaign after the killing of four female vaccinators on the second day of the campaign.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government also suspended the drive on the third day after attacks on vaccinators in different parts of the province. However, the campaign continued for three days in Islamabad, Punjab, Fata and Balochistan.
Talking to Dawn, Dr Elias Durry, the WHO senior coordinator for polio eradication programme in Pakistan, admitted the number of missed-out children and expressed concern over the situation.
“WHO hails the bravery of the front-line workers who managed to reach 14.9 million children out of the targeted 18.5 million across Pakistan despite the horrendous attacks. So far, there are still 3.5 million children who remain unvaccinated,” he said.
Dr Durry added that WHO fully supported Pakistan’s efforts to reach the missed out children at the earliest possible time with full participation of the public while maintaining the safety of the vaccinators.
Farhan Javed, a resident of I-10/1 in Islamabad, told Dawn that his two-year-old son and five-year-old daughter did not get the polio drops.
Mohammad Arshad, a resident of Westridge-III in Rawalpindi, said the polio team did not visit his house during the three-day campaign. He said his two-year-old son had to be administered anti-polio drops.
Dr Balaj Khan, a pediatrician, told Dawn that there was a dire need to administer polio drops to the children otherwise it would be difficult to protect them against the crippling disease.
“The unvaccinated children remain prone to infection and can also infect other children by spreading the contagious virus,” he said.
However, Shahnaz Wazir Ali, the head of the prime minister’s polio monitoring and coordination cell and special assistant to the prime minister refused to accept the figure of the missed-out children.
“You can’t say that 3.5 million children missed the anti-polio drops because the campaign was stopped in Karachi and Peshawar and other
parts of the KP on the first day of the campaign after the attack on vaccinators.”
She said the federal and provincial governments were committed to eliminating the polio virus from the country.
She expressed the hope that the government would reach all the children who were still not vaccinated. Ms Ali said a meeting held in Karachi had discussed how to ensure security and launch the polio campaign in the areas left unattended.