Govt weighs options to cope with aftermath of polio scare

Published April 29, 2019
The options include reducing the quantum of the national immunisation and sub-immunisation campaigns against poliomyelitis, according to sources. — AP/File
The options include reducing the quantum of the national immunisation and sub-immunisation campaigns against poliomyelitis, according to sources. — AP/File

PESHAWAR: The government is considering options to cope with the aftermath of the fear created after the Monday last’s incident in which thousands of children were briefly hospitalised for ‘reaction’ of anti-polio vaccine.

The options include reducing the quantum of the national immunisation and sub-immunisation campaigns against poliomyelitis, according to sources.

They said that currently nine national immunisation campaigns, six-week apart, were conducted in the province while four sub immunisation anti-polio campaigns took place in the selected districts. It meant that the vaccination staff visited each household on average 10 times a month that created doubts in the minds of people, they added.

Frequent campaigns also exposed the health workers, who enraged some people by knocking at their doors more often. “The new strategy is aimed at shifting from high profile to a low profile business,” said sources.

New strategy to include reduction in quantum of immunisation drives

In every campaign, health department deployed about 60,000 personnel including security staff that created a war-like situation as the closely-guarded vaccinators administered drops to the children. The new option is likely to be adopted and the polio vaccination drive takes place on quarterly basis.

It will not only remove the prevalence fatigue among the staff but would create demand for OPV.

Reduction in polio campaign will also cut down cost by 50 per cent, which runs into millions of rupees. The incident has also forced the health department to mark the World Immunisation Week by holding advocacy programmes at provincial and district levels.

The provincial government deploys vaccinators every year in the field to immunise children. It has now decided to scale up public awareness instead of immunisation in the face of threats to the vaccinators after the scare.

However, the tit-for-tat response by the government to the drama is going on. The aggressive approach is unlikely to do away with the rumours about OPV.

Staunch opponents of vaccines preach in their neighbourhoods and argue that the government does not provide treatment to people in hospitals for killer ailments but pursues children in schools, homes and on roads for polio vaccination as part of ‘international conspiracy’.

The gullible parents buy the argument as they don’t know that poliomyelitis is the only childhood disease that can be completely eradicated like it has been uprooted in the whole world except Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.

It is obvious to everyone now that the hysteria created by rivals was a drama but the government’s overreaction created a strange situation.

On social media, images show how target children climb trees to avoid vaccination. The health workers are seen on same trees following the children to administer them OPV. Another video shows scores of school children immediately dispersing from a playground when someone from the background shouts that vaccinators are coming.

The owners of private schools have announced at a press conference that they wouldn’t allow vaccination and have suggested home-based immunisation in the presence of parents. An inquiry into the incident has named the people, who played negative role and were instrumental in staging the drama on that day.

As opposed to polio vaccination, immunisation for nine diseases at the 1,295 EPI centre in the provincial health facilities is about 90 per cent. Children are taken to the centres by parents but they refuse to administer anti-polio drops to their children at their doorsteps.

Published in Dawn, April 29th, 2019

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