KARACHI: Authorities in the provincial health department find it hard to go with their plans to administer polio booster, especially to the children who had potentially missed out earlier campaigns because of being residents of ‘sensitive neighbourhoods’, for they received no go-ahead signals from the officials who provide them security, it emerged on Sunday.

Some senior officials hinted at the fact that they had planned another two-day phase of polio campaign in the city from Tuesday (tomorrow), but they were still waiting for a nod from the security officials to be adequately prepared for the day.

“We have plans for a campaign in the city from Tuesday in which we’ll target the sensitive areas in particular. However, we have not got a signal to go ahead with our plans from the police and other law enforcement agencies,” said a senior official among those overseeing health-care system in Karachi.

Similarly, certain officials in the expanded programme on immunisation (EPI) in Sindh had little knowledge of the plans to combat the crippling disease that caused travel sanctions on the country by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for Pakistan’s staggeringly huge share in polio cases detected worldwide this year.

The EPI is engaged in administering oral polio vaccine (OPV) to international passengers at airports and in government hospitals. Certificates are also issued to the people who intended to travel from Pakistan in four weeks time.

The authorities do not allow for polio campaigns in Karachi for the fact that volunteers have repeatedly come under attack in Gadap and other neighbourhoods, compelling the authorities to suspend the immunisation campaigns quite often.

While the Sindh government initially ordered the law enforcement agencies to provide security to polio workers during such campaigns, a strategy was later worked out to provide better security to volunteers and ensure the maximum coverage during anti-polio campaigns.

On Jan 21, 2014 three polio workers, including two women, were killed in Qayyumabad.

Following the deadly attack, the Sindh government had decided that motorcycle riding be banned for eight hours in 24 union councils of Karachi on Sundays for the safety of the vaccinators participating in the anti-polio drive in these areas during these hours.

For three months or so the special polio campaigns were run in selected areas of the city on Sundays with proper security cover.

The city, which has recorded six cases till the middle of 2014, had seen eight victims last year. Pakistan now carries a huge burden of 82 polio cases out of more than 100 worldwide.

Published in Dawn, June 23rd , 2014

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