PESHAWAR: As Pakistan appears to head towards the highest number of polio cases in a single year, official data shows that an overwhelming 96 per cent of polio cases so far reported are among the Pashto-speaking population of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata.
Official epidemiological data recorded until October 1, 2014 reveals that the Wazir and Dawar tribes of North Waziristan have the highest ratio of the polio virus. The tribesmen on the other hand hold the government and Taliban equally responsible for the spread of polio virus in the region.
They are of the view that the militants had banned the vaccination in parts of the tribal areas affected by the virus while the government and the administration never come up to their expectations and had left them at the mercy of the militants.
According to data exclusively available with Dawn, out of these 96pc of cases, residents of North Waziristan Agency's Wazir tribe account for 34pc.
The Dawar tribe trails behind with 27pc, while the Afridi tribe accounts for 26pc of the cases so far this year.
The data further shows that out of those Pakhtuns who contracted the paralysing disease, 8pc were Banosi (Bannu residents), 4pc from Mohmand tribe and 1pc belonged to Sulemankhel tribe (one case each in Karachi and South Waziristan tribal region).
Officials however also admit that, besides the given numbers, there exist a large number of cases which still need to be analysed.
They also endorse the statistics saying the tribes living in North Waziristan, parts of South Waziristan as well as Khyber agency are among the most affected population of Fata and KP.
Refusal ratio rises to 14pc
The key social characteristics data reveals that the refusal ratio increased from last year’s 5.5pc to 14pc this year, while the percentage of insecure areas – which were 80pc last year – stands at 97pc in 2014.
The epidemiological statistics of the so far reported cases shows that 82pc cases are among children below 2 years of age, which indicates that either the parents are not willing to vaccinate their children or the teams had no access to those children who were with their mothers and could not be vaccinated outside homes.
Officials say the reason for this factor is that the health authorities are lacking female vaccinators who are more welcome to enter houses to administer polio drops.
Out of the cases found positive for the virus, 53pc are male children and 47pc female.
The data also reveals that 14pc cases are among the refusal families while 90pc have poor socio-economic background and the same percentage live in rural areas.
Among the identified cases, parents of almost all polio victims have no formal education at all.
The figures also endorsed by the officials confirms that 98pc cases among the reported did not receive routine oral polio vaccine (OPV) dose while 68pc did not even receive even a single OPV dose while 8pc children got the virus despite the fact that they had received 7 or more OPV doses.
The total number of cases reported so far this year are 207 with 136 from Fata, 43 from KP, 19 from Sindh, 6 from Balochistan, and 3 from Punjab.
The official data further reveals that among the affected districts, 23 cases are of wild polio virus cases (WPV) while 7 cases are of sewerage water.
The wild polio cases according to the official figures are reported in Buner district of KP, Khyber Agency, Bhakar District of Punjab, Killa Abdullah district of Balochistan and Gadap area of Karachi.
Last year, residents of KP and Fata represented 93 pc of the total number of polio cases.
Polio team leader for UNICEF in Fata and KP, Dr Bilal Ahmed, speaking to Dawn confirmed that the most affected areas for polio virus cases is Fata, particularly North Waziristan and South Agency while Khyber Agency and FR Bannu are next in line.
He added that in KP, the most high risk areas are Bannu and Peshawar where the number of reported cases are high.
Dr Bilal remarked that natural disasters and the law and order situation has badly affected polio vaccination in the Fata and KP region in the last decade.
To a query, he said that after 2012 the health teams had no access to North Waziristan Agency but after the launch of military operation in June, displaced people of the tribal region were being vaccinated.
The tribesmen on the other hand have not started speaking up against the Taliban who had threatened them against getting their children vaccinating, but Bilal said that locals hold the authorities responsible for the virus spread as no arrangements were made to vaccinate the hostage population of North Waziristan Agency.
Military operation proves as 'blessing in disguise'
Muhammad Aziz Wazir, who hails from Mir Ali, says his nephew contracted polio as he could not get vaccination because of threats from militants.
He said that his family could not give polio drops to their kids as the militants had banned polio vaccination at all the hospitals and health centers.
“They have warned people not to take their kids to the hospitals for polio vaccination that’s why we cannot take our kids for polio vaccination but when we came here we sent our kids for the vaccine,” he said.
"I had sometimes seen polio vaccinators in Miramshah and Madakhel but when the Taliban came, they (vaccinators) totally disappeared and did not return,” he added.
To a query he added that polio drops were good for the health of the children and they should be administered the vaccine but the people had no choice when the Taliban enforced a ban.
Ziaullah Dawar said that polio vaccinators seldom came to his neighbourhood. "We used to vaccinate our children only when they used to come once a year,” he said.
“The polio vaccinators were afraid of Taliban and the people were not willing to vaccinate (their children) because of the threat...but now after coming to Bannu they are regularly vaccinating their kids,” he said.
Ibrar Dawar says he never knew about the benefits of the polio vaccination due to Taliban threat and the lack of proper education.
"After now getting awareness we have realised (vaccination) is a must for the lives of our children and saving them from getting crippled," he says.
The militants had always used religion as a means to misguide people, he says, but the government is equally to blame as it had not made much efforts to educate the people.
Samiullah Dawar says the militants both foreigners as well as locals were opposed to the vaccination and had always coerced locals not to vaccinate their children.
"The local clerics and imams had also been calling upon the people not to go for the 'un-Islamic vaccines' as they were meant to make people sterile and it contains haram (prohibited) ingredients," he says.
He says that several tribesmen feel that Operation Zarb-i-Azb has proved a blessing in disguise for North Waziristan as for the first time children are able to receive polio drops.