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Parents refusing polio vaccination will not face police cases

Updated June 17, 2019

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The National Polio Programme has decided not to register police cases against the parents refusing vaccination to their children. — AFP/File
The National Polio Programme has decided not to register police cases against the parents refusing vaccination to their children. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The National Polio Programme has decided not to register police cases against the parents refusing vaccination to their children — a move that may severely affect the polio eradication campaign starting in core areas on Monday.

“About 50,000 or 10 per cent refusals are expected in districts Bannu, Lakki Marwat and North Wazi­ris­tan due to this relaxation. We have deliberately deci­ded to relax the past practice, in three districts, as we want to know the exact number of refusals. However, there will be zero tolerance on misbehaving with the polio teams and strict action would be taken if anyone manhandles or insults team members,” Prime Minister’s Focal Person on Polio Babar bin Atta said while talking to Dawn.

He said that vaccination cannot be done forcibly rather it has to be done in agreement with parents.

“There are around 500,000 children, less than five years of age, in three districts. Polio teams have been directed to note down the refusals and don’t insist on vaccination. However, after the polio campaign, a refusal catch-up campaign would be held to convince parents that the vaccination is in the best interest of their children,” Mr Atta said.

“Unfortunately, parents have kept markers in their homes and they mark fingers of their children, on the first day of campaigns. We want to convince parents that the vaccination is in the best interest of their children,” he said.

According to a statement issued by the National Emergency Operations Centre, the polio vaccination drive aims to protect more than 12.25 million children, in 45 districts, from virus of the crippling disease. During this special campaign, thousands of frontline workers will go door to door to ensure children receive two drops of the vaccine.

According to a target set for the campaign, 5.53m children would be vaccinated in Sindh, 4.31m in Punjab, 1.32m in Balochistan and 1.1m in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The campaign would be held in 16 districts of Sindh, 13 of Balochistan, 9 of KP and 7 districts of Punjab.

During the current year, 23 cases of wild poliovirus have been reported in the country, including seven from Bannu district, one each from Hangu, Dera Ismail Khan and Shangla in KP, three cases from Mir Ali, two from Miramshah, one each from Khyber and Bajaur, two from Karachi and one from Larkana and three from Lahore.

The statement said that despite significant achievements of the programme, the cunning poliovirus is still surviving and finds a way for its survival, therefore the special immunisation campaign has been planned in all the core reservoirs to kill the wild poliovirus forever.

“Bannu division is declared highly sensitive after reporting of 50pc of the total polio cases in the country, therefore it is utmost important to vaccinate each child under five years in each anti-polio campaign” said Mr Atta, adding that “considering the situation Bannu division is the top priority”.

He said: “Parents are requested to avoid fake propaganda against polio vaccine and vaccinate their children to protect them from the poliovirus.”

The government of Pakistan is striving to hit the virus hard through this special campaign. Its top priority is to focus on reaching still missed children in core reservoirs through continued improvement of operations and capacitating frontline polio workers to reach and protect every missed child with the vital polio vaccine.

Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by poliovirus mainly affecting children under the age of five. It invades the nervous system, and can cause paralysis or even death. While there is no cure for polio, vaccination is the most effective way to protect children from this crippling disease. Each time a child under the age of five is vaccinated, their protection against the virus is increased. Repeated immunisations have protected millions of children from polio, allowing almost all countries in the world to become free of polio. Currently there are only two countries – Pakistan and Afghanistan – in which polio cases are being reported.

Published in Dawn, June 17th, 2019