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Four-day polio campaign kicks off today amid tight security

September 29, 2014

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.— AFP file photo
.— AFP file photo

KARACHI: Most of the 7.6 million children in Sindh will be inoculated against polio during the four-day campaign beginning on Monday except for Karachi West, where a six-day campaign was launched on Saturday, officials said on Sunday.

Over 33 million children in Pakistan will be administered with polio vaccine during the national immunisation days (NIDs), which will continue till Thursday.

Know more: Tests reveal ineffective polio campaigns in six major cities

A total of 2.26 million children in Karachi will be targeted during the massive campaign for which the authorities are confident that adequate security measure have been put in place.

“We have made all arrangements to inoculate the city children along with rest of the province and the country during the NIDs, however, the campaign in Karachi West and certain sensitive areas has already been launched,” said Dr Zafar Ijaz, director health, Karachi division, while speaking to Dawn.

“All necessary arrangements to provide security to more than 6,000 teams in Karachi have been taken care of,” he added.

Stringent security measures have been taken for volatile areas, particularly Gadap and Baldia Towns, where polio workers and doctors had been attacked several times.

The officials said out of around 2.26 million children of Karachi, some 500,000 or more had been included in the campaign with higher preference because of fewer campaigns in their localities, because of security hiccups and disobliging attitude of family elders.

“We put together heads to plan security arrangements for those areas weeks earlier and have received the nod from security officials to launch our campaign there,” said a senior health ministry official.

Sindh has detected 15 confirmed polio cases — 14 in Karachi with six in Gadap Town alone.

With seven cases reported from Balochistan and Punjab, the situation in the country’s northwest is worst where 152 polio cases have been documented.

Polio campaigns had been abruptly ended in Karachi more than once after attacks on a World health Organisation doctor and several polio vaccinators over the years.

Polio workers have repeatedly come under attacks in Gadap Town in recent years, compelling the authorities to suspend the immunisation campaigns.

On Jan 21, 2014, three polio workers, two of them female, were killed in Qayyumabad.

More than a quarter of total 40-plus attacks against polio workers in the country have taken place in Gadap and Baldia Towns.

Karachi is the city where health officials have recorded most refusals to the immunisation campaign than other large cities of the country. Almost all refusals came from the growing Pakhtun population in the metropolis.

As many as 761 polio cases have been detected over the past 17 years in Sindh, official figures show.

According to figures compiled by the provincial health department, 1997, since when proper data for polio cases in Sindh started to be maintained, up to 274 such cases have been reported, which has been a record.

In 1998, the number declined to 97 while in 1999, when vitamin A was included in the nationwide anti-polio drive, it reduced to 53.

The NIDs were started in 1994 to eradicate the lethal disease. Last year the disease crippled 10 children in Sindh.

Since June 1 when the World Health Organisation (WHO) imposed travel restrictions on Pakistan for its staggeringly high contribution to polio cases in the world, the country has recorded 93 polio cases out of which nine were reported in Sindh.

The city — which was polio free in 2012 — had seen eight victims last year and officials fear the number of affected children could be much higher as it is just ninth month of the year.

Pakistan now carries a huge burden of 174 polio cases: 121 from Federally Administered Tribal Areas, 31 from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 15 from Sindh, five from Balochistan and two from Punjab.

The officials fear the pace with which polio cases were increasing in number the current year could surpass the decade’s highest (198 cases), which was recorded in 2011.

According to the micro plan prepared by the organisers, some 7,632,041 children have been identified to be administered with polio vaccine by 21,921 teams during NIDs.

Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2014