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Health workers risk life for vaccinating children

Updated June 24, 2013
— File Photo.
— File Photo.

PESHAWAR: Volunteers, who are paid a nominal honorarium for participating in the polio vaccination campaigns, find themselves in a vulnerable position in case of violence against them.

The health department officials told Dawn that a woman volunteer developed cardiac problems and remained in hospital for a month after a policeman escorting her during a vaccination campaign in Mardan was targeted by gunmen.

They said the woman hadn’t received any assistance from the government and was left at the mercy of Allah.

The officials said the government received huge financial assistance for polio eradication but the honorarium paid to workers was very little, especially in view of the threats to their life.

They said vaccinators, who formed the backbone of the campaign, worked in the field and were the only source of children’s vaccination against polio.

“Without giving proper incentives to vaccinators, it would be in vain to think about making the province polio-free,” an official said.

He said the woman remained in Mardan Medical Complex Mardan, where she was not given free treatment.

“Everyday, we learn that volunteers from certain area have refused to run a polio campaign. This is tragic because the province is in the last stage of polio eradication after a struggle of more than 15 years and can’t afford any laxity,” he said.

The official said the government had ignored polio workers targeted by gunmen by and large.

He said the government had provided Rs300,000 compensation each to the heirs of slain vaccinators but the families of the volunteers who died for the same cause couldn’t get any amount.

He said around 60 per cent of vaccinations was done by government employees and 40 per cent by paid workers, including EPI technicians, schoolteachers and volunteers recruited from local community.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has 34,000 vaccinators, who are required to administer OPV to 5.5 million children under five years on their doorsteps.

Every vaccinator is paid Rs500 per day and Rs2,000 for every campaign. However, volunteers don’t get compensation like government employees.

Ironically, communication officers hired for polio campaigns by Unicef receive Rs60,000 plus other benefits every month.

“After the assassination of vaccinators, around 250 communication officers have gone into hibernation saying they cannot continue with their mobilisation activities due to threats to their lives,” an official said.

The province spends more than Rs300 million on every polio vaccination campaign.

The government is yet to recognise the sacrifices rendered by health workers and volunteers dying in polio vaccination in the province.

Three policemen died in polio vaccination-related violence have been compensated under the ‘Shuhada Package’.

“None of the killers involved in the assassination of vaccinators had been arrested since December 17 when three vaccinators and a driver were killed in the first such incidents in Peshawar and Charsadda. The coordinated campaign against vaccinators is still in progress while the government is unmoved,” said an official.

He said volunteers were distancing themselves from polio campaigns due to the delayed payment of dues and failure to arrest killers.

The official said three policemen, who were among those killed during polio vaccination, would get Rs0.3 million each under ‘Shuhada Package’ besides pensions and other privileges.

“The families of the slain policemen will also receive salary till the maturity of the services,” he said, adding that health employees would get pensions and other privileges.

He said four health employees, who fell victim to militant attacks in polio campaign, had been given Rs300,000 compensation each, while their close relatives would get jobs.

When contacted, deputy commissioner of Peshawar Javed Marwat said the administration had forwarded a summary to the government for payment of compensation to the relatives of volunteers, who died during polio vaccination campaigns.

“We are hopeful that the summary will get the government’s approval. And once that happens, we will be able to give money to four volunteers killed in polio campaigns,” he said.

He said a compensation of Rs300,000 and Rs100, 000 had been recommended for such volunteers.

Mr Marwat said the relatives of slain health employees would also be given jobs.

He said there was a ban on government’s jobs that delayed the recruitment process.

Meanwhile, the health department, which is spearheading polio campaigns, has long been requesting the government to announce package for volunteers as it wants to keep vaccination going.

“We cannot afford to halt polio campaigns at this critical time because we have got very close to eradication of the crippling virus. Eradication is a difficult phase because we have to vaccinate all children, which is impossible without the support of volunteers,” an official said.