PESHAWAR: Authorities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which recorded 89 of the nationwide 129 polio cases last year, are hoping to bring the incidence to single digit by June 2020, following quality campaign with the support of administrations and security force under the oversight of chief secretary due to which 99 per cent children were vaccinated in December last year.
Dr Nadeem Jan, the technical focal person at the emergency operation centre (polio), says that they have made breakthroughs with regard to addressing vaccine’s hesitancy on religious grounds as chief of Ahl-i-Hadith has recently issued edict calling upon the parents to ensure safety of their children.
The cleric, who was opposed to vaccination formerly, issued a one-page edict, saying that initially he disapproved vaccination but he was convinced that the drops were meant to safeguard their children from the disease after going through medical search by Islamic scholars.
“We have come to the conclusion that these are not against Islam,” he said.
Dr Nadeem said that the role played by all political strata was instrumental to create demand for vaccination in areas from where they had been struggling to cope with chronic refusals.
Official says breakthrough has been made in vaccine’s hesitancy on religious grounds
He said that the chief secretary, who was a medical doctor, too sought reports about polio vaccination on daily basis and visited hot spots during the last campaign which gave big boost to drive and the workers reached the target children.
“Situation has improved as our frontline workers with tight security reached all children even in southern districts, which recorded 84 polio cases in 2019. Monitoring and surveillance mechanism has been further strengthened to know about the issues and take immediate action,” said Dr Nadeem.
He said that administrative support at that stage was crucial when the virus was in circulation in the province, exposing more children to disabilities. “We have overcome so many issues through full engagement of communities at the local level. Mosques, seminaries, schools and hujras (guest-houses) have been used to strengthen immunization,” he added.
Dr Nadeem said that they addressed the public grievances through logically discourse to woo people to administer two drops of oral polio vaccine, which was provided during the door-to-door campaigns and at EPI centres in hospitals.
“Two campaigns have been planned in eight districts, one on January 13 and another on 27 that will be followed by NID on February 6. A drive has been planned in March wherein children would be given injectable polio vaccine along with IPV to scale up their immunities against poliomyelitis,” he said.
Dr Nadeem said that all those activities would bring results by June. He said that they hoped huge decline in number of cases than last year.
Dr Mohammad Rana Safdar, coordinator of the national emergency operations centre, said that situation was showing signs of improvement but they were also engaged to strengthen coordination with Afghanistan, another polio-endemic country along with Pakistan.
“We have a mechanism whereby designated focal persons hold telecom weekly, provinces interact through video link monthly and the whole national teams meet or hold videocon every quarter.” he said.
Dr Safdar said that they conducted synchronised campaign on both sides of the borders in December to ensure that people were administered vaccines. Information about new cases and sewage detections was also shared by both teams immediately along with response plans, he said.
“Our last face to face meeting with Afghanistan team was in Abu Dhabi last month as we met on sidelines of the Polio Oversight Board where we discussed further cooperation,” said Dr Safdar. He added that response from Afghanistan was very encouraging.
Published in Dawn, January 9th, 2020