ISLAMABAD/SWABI: The government’s efforts aimed at ridding the country of polio were dealt two serious blows on Wednesday as three new cases were detected in three provinces and two lady health workers were killed when motorcyclists attacked them in Razaar tehsil soon after commencement of a three-day immunisation drive in Swabi district.
Of the three confirmed cases of the disease, two were said to belong to this year and one to last year. The tally for 2019 therefore increased to 140 and that for this year to six.
“The cases for this year (2020) have been reported from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. An 11-month-old male child, a resident of district and tehsil Tank, Union Council Tatta, has been paralysed. Both of the child’s lower limbs have been paralysed,” an official of the National Institute of Health (NIH) told Dawn.
He said that in Balochistan a 20-month-old male child — a resident of Nasirabad district, Dera Murad Jamali tehsil, UC Sikandarabad — was paralysed due to onset of the disease.
Three new polio cases reported from three provinces
“One of the cases belongs to the year 2019... A 26-month-old boy, a resident of Larkana district, Ratodero tehsil, UC Jumo Agham, has been paralysed,” the official said.
He said that socioeconomic status of the families of all the three children was stated to be poor.
“Though we are in the year 2020, we are receiving cases for 2019 as well because the date of collection of samples is considered for this purpose rather than that of confirmation of the case,” he said.
The national coordinator for Emergency Operation Centre, Dr Rana Safdar, said the “immunity gap that emerged across the country last year” was planned to be plugged through three nationwide immunisation campaigns, one already held in December and two that would be held in February and April this year.
“The efforts would lead to a significant drop in the pace of new cases by mid-2020, setting the stage for our further push towards zero polio. The programme seeks support from all segments of society and requests every Pakistani to assume the role of a Sehat Muhafiz by vaccinating their own children as well as those around them,” Dr Safdar said.
While a total of 140 cases of polio have so far been reported for 2019, only 12 cases were recorded in 2018 and just eight in the year before that.
Vaccinators shot dead
The two lady health workers, who were gunned down in Swabi district on Wednesday, were not accompanied by any law enforcement personnel.
Police officials and District Health Officer Dr Mohammad Tariq said the two vaccinators came under attack in the jurisdiction of Purmuli police station. The assailants who were riding a motorbike escaped from the scene after the ambush.
Officials in the health department said the two vaccinators were attacked on the Mirali-Shewa road. As a result of the assault, Shakeela Naz died on the spot while Ghuncha Begum was injured seriously.
Begum was initially taken to the Tehsil Headquarters Hospital, Razaar, but was later referred to the Lady Reading Hospital, Peshawar, where she passed away.
Health officials said the vaccinators hailed from the Boko and Purmuli villages.
A police officer said that security had been provided to the vaccinators in those union councils that had been declared the “most sensitive” by district police. Purmuli was not among the “sensitive” union councils, he added.
“Due to a shortage of staff, they had not been provided security,” said an official in the Purmuli police station.
Police have registered a case against unidentified assailants and started an investigation.
Dr Mohammad Yaqoob, the district polio coordinator, was killed in a similar attack in November 2015.
Saleem Shahid in Quetta also contributed to this report
Published in Dawn, January 30th, 2020