ISLAMABAD: With polio cases are on the rise within the country, a large number of union council polio officers (UCPO) protested outside the World Health Organisation (WHO) office, demanding an extension in the contracts of 1,800 officers.
WHO Country Head Dr Palitha Mahipala rushed back to Islamabad from Peshawar to assure the protesters he will take up their case, and that it would be considered on compassionate grounds.
Protesters from across the country gathered outside the office at 11am, and the protest continued until 3:30pm.
The protesting officers said the experience they have gained during their tenure would become useless. They said they had fought against polio despite facing threats to their lives and humiliation in areas where parents refused to vaccinate their children.
Despite rising polio cases in the country, 1,800 union council polio officers made jobless
In a joint statement, the protesters said they served during a very difficult time and instead of being appreciated for their sacrifices on the frontline against polio, they have been fired from their jobs.
“Many of us sacrificed their lives for the great noble cause of serving humanity. Despite of all difficulties, we delivered our best in routine immunization, outreach vaccination sessions, measles campaigns, Acute Flaccid Paralysis (AFP) surveillance, polio vaccination monitoring, area in charge trainings facilitation, teams training facilitation, micro plan preparation help, data and tally sheet analysis and social mobilization. In spite our core competencies we are being fired. By this way the programs will be badly impacted,” the statement said.
They also pointed out that their has efforts have extended to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Not only we fought against Polio but we supported, assisted and facilitated the Covid-19 control team and played a vital role in creating awareness about the pandemic Covid-19. We traced the people which came from foreign countries, helped them in isolating them and followed up Covid-19 positive cases both at quarantine center and home quarantine.
“We had been convincing people about Covid-19 as many in far-plunged areas were denying its reality. We spent our career making time with your organization with an average experience of six to 10 years. Our joblessness will leave our families hungry and we are now overage and ineligible to apply for any government job,” the statement said.
A protester from Parachinar, Imdad Hussain Turi, told Dawn that 1,800 officers have lost their jobs.
“Our contracts, which were given through a third party and expired on Oct 31, already mentioned that they may or may not be extended. However, we are of the view that we have served the noble cause of polio eradication in areas where there was unrest and our lives were at stake,” Mr Turi said.
He added that they have worked for almost a decade, with a salary of Rs55,000 per month.
He said the Dr Mahipala’s assurance that their cases will be taken up has given them hope.
“We also hope that our issue will be addressed by Friday so we have decided to postpone our protest,” he said.
There have been 80 cases of polio reported so far this year, compared to 147 last year, 12 in 2018 and eight in 2017.
There were also 83 cases of vaccine derived polio reported; 22 such cases were reported last year.
Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by poliovirus affecting mainly 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 the 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 polio free.
There are only two countries in the world, Pakistan and Afghanistan, where polio cases are still being reported. Pakistan remains under a polio-linked travel restriction imposed by the WHO due to which, since 2014, every person travelling abroad has to carry a polio vaccination certificate.
Published in Dawn, November 10th, 2020