KARACHI: Coinciding with the summons Islamabad sent to senior officials of the four provinces for a meeting being held to evolve the country’s future course of action ahead of an Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) meeting in London on Pakistan’s unacceptable polio burden, Sindh on Tuesday received the confirmation of poliovirus in a two-year-old boy from the National Institute of Health (NIH) that brought the provincial tally of polio cases to 15 so far this year, officials said.
Provincial health department officials identified the boy as Hazrat Bilal, a son of Khayal Mohammad, whose samples had been sent to the NIH four weeks ago.
The boy’s family, a Pakhtun like the ones who had been reported in most previous cases, resides in Firdous Colony in Liaquatabad and originally hailed from the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), which recorded more than 50 per cent of all the polio cases in the world.
“The boy is also among those children whose families refused to inoculate him against polio,” said a senior official.
Besides, the sources said the federal government had called a meeting in Islamabad on Thursday of all the chief ministers or their representatives with the federal officials to think out ways and means to save the country from further embarrassment and extension in the WHO sanctions that might be slapped in a meeting of the IMB in London.
Except a two-year-old child from a village of Sanghar district, the rest of the 14 polio cases have been reported in Karachi and 12 of them belonged to families of Pakhtun origin.
Since June 1 when the WHO imposed travel restrictions on Pakistan for its contribution to the polio cases in the world, the country has recorded 90 polio cases out of which nine were reported in Sindh.
The city was polio free in 2012, but saw eight cases last year and officials fear that this year the number of affected children could be much higher as it is still the ninth month of the year.
Pakistan carries a huge burden of 171 polio cases: 120 from Fata, 30 from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 15 from Sindh, four from Balochistan and two from Punjab.
Officials fear the pace with which polio cases were increasing, the current year could surpass the decade’s highest (198 cases), which was recorded in 2011.
Warning to officials
Meanwhile, disappointed with the pathetic routine immunisation drives in the province, Sindh Health Minister Dr Saghir Ahmed on Tuesday warned officials of the health departments in all the districts of Sindh that departmental action would be taken against them if the scheduled vaccination was found to be unsatisfactory in any district.
He said this during a meeting held to review failures in routine immunisation campaigns in Sindh.
MNA Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho, chief minister’s adviser on polio Shahnaz Wazir Ali and representatives from Unicef and the Rotary International attended the meeting along with senior government officials.
The meeting was convened in the aftermath of the discouraging figures shown in a recent survey organised by the federal government to assess the level of general immunisation in the four provinces and the capital and increasing number of polio cases in Karachi.
The provincial health department suspended 12 vaccinators deputed in Gadap, Baldia and Landhi towns who had been blamed for the poor immunisation campaign in those polio ‘sensitive’ neighbourhoods.
During the meeting, the district health officers of the districts that performed poorly in immunisation campaigns responded to some harsh queries hurled at them from the minister and other senior participants, the officials said.
It was decided in the meeting that elected members of the assemblies and notable individuals of the areas should be engaged in campaigns.
Dr Pechuho, who also heads the polio oversight committee, said the annual confidential reports (ACRs) of the concerned DHOs would depend on their performance in future immunisation campaigns and those whose work did not deem up to the mark would have to see it reflect in their service records.
Besides, she said those officials would also face departmental action.
Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2014