PESHAWAR: The ongoing military action in North Waziristan Agency and the Taliban’s orders for the local population to flee their homes could turn out to be a blessing in disguise for unvaccinated local children.

“The tribesmen’ migration to nearby Bannu due to the possible military action and the Taliban’s resolve to fight back is likely to result in mass exodus,” an official told Dawn on Monday.

The official said the displaced population would live either in camps or with host community, where oral polio vaccine could be administered to around 150,000 North Waziristan children, who had long been unvaccinated due to the ban of the Taliban on polio vaccination.

Of the 71 countrywide polio cases reported until now this year, 55 came from Fata, including 46 from North Waziristan Agency, five from South Waziristan Agency and two from Khyber Agency and FR Bannu each.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh reported 10 and six polio cases respectively.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa health department, which have long been victim of polio virus from Fata, has a successful experience with regard to vaccination of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Tirah valley in Khyber Agency, according to a relevant official.

The official said around 100,000 children, who fled their homes due to the conflict, were vaccinated in Jalozai camps and in Peshawar.

“The result of the vaccination was a breakthrough because we eliminated virus from Tirah valley, which hasn’t reported any polio case since April 2012. Before that, Tirah was responsible for the transportation of virus to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” he said.

The official said the department also carried out four weekly immunisation campaign covering fewer than 15 children.

“No case has been reported there. Bara recorded the last P3 case of Asia in April 2102. There’s been no polio case from there since,” he said.

The official said the children were also vaccinated at 14 transit points established for displaced persons.

“The same strategy can be applied to ensure vaccination of Waziristan children when they reach Bannu, where the situation is similar to Tirah valley,” he said.

Polio virus from North Waziristan Agency was traced in four of the total six Bannu cases reported in 2014.

The provincial government insists the children got infection from unvaccinated Fata children and holds the federal government responsible for it.

“The centre is supposed to ensure immunisation in Fata, which it controls directly. We have already made Peshawar polio-free,” a local official said.

He said the centre’s response to province’s requests to administer vaccination to Fata children was confined to verbal assurances as everyone knew the Taliban ban on vaccination imposed in June 2012 continued to be in place.

“After being let down by the Fata situation, our only hope for vaccination of children is their displacement. Mass displacement is a serious human tragedy and causes widespread repercussions for the people fleeing homes due to violence. However, it will be better for the polio eradication programme to immunise children, who haven’t been given OPV for 22 months,” he said.

The official said Lahore had tested positive for polio virus threatening children from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where water was free from the virus as declared by the World Health Organisation lately.

He said the province, where the virus was confined to two districts only, was also worried about the virus circulating in Karachi.

The official said the Sehat Ka Insaf (Health for All) programme run by the health department had eradicated polio virus from Peshawar, which was declared the world polio reservoir by the WHO in January this year.

He, however, said the city was prone to the polio re-emergence due to circulation of the virus in Waziristan and Khyber agencies and other parts of Fata.

Published in Dawn, June 3rd, 2014

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