Door-to-door polio drive in KP exposes health workers, police to attacks

Published August 3, 2021
In this file photo, a policemen accompanies polio workers on an immunisation campaign. — Reuters/File
In this file photo, a policemen accompanies polio workers on an immunisation campaign. — Reuters/File

PESHAWAR: Policemen and workers engaged in door-to-door polio immunisation campaign continue to become target of bullets despite improvement in the coverage of childhood ailments, including poliomyelitis, at the fixed centres of expanded programme on immunisation.

“Despite better results of immunisation at the fixed centres of expanded programme on immunisation (EPI), authorities stick to door-to-door drive which exposes police personnel as well as health workers to attacks,” experts told this scribe.

According to a report of third party validation of immunisation coverage (TPVIC), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has improved coverage of essential immunisation status during the last two years.

The coverage of every single antigen had gone from 55 per cent in 2018 to 68 per cent in 2020, it said.

Experts suggest limiting immunisation to fixed centres

In the tribal districts, immunisation coverage has gone up to 43 per cent from 30 per cent registered two years ago.

The EPI covers 10 disease including poliomyelitis. “This very reason has brought down polio cases significantly. During the current year, no case has been recorded in the province,” said experts. They added that door-to-door campaigns were becoming dangerous as police and health workers were killed by unidentified people in every drive.

EPI has been immunizing children up to 23 months against vaccine preventable childhood ailments, including tuberculosis, polio, diphtheria, tetanus, pneumonia, pertussis (whooping cough), Hepatitis-B, meningitis, diarrhea and measles.

Since 2012, when targeting of polio teams was started, about 55 people including 40 health workers and 15 policemen have been killed in incidents linked to polio vaccination in the country. Fifty per cent such incidents happened in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 25 persons have been killed including 18 polio workers and seven policemen in such attacks.

So far, no militant group has claimed responsibility for attacks on polio teams. The authorities concerned continue to carry out door-to-door campaign instead of relying on fixed EPI centres despite improvement in vaccination.

Latest in the series is the killing of a policeman in Peshawar while another was wounded in a landmine explosion in South Waziristan on Sunday. Another policeman was killed in Dera Ismail Khan on Monday.

In June, two policemen were killed in Mardan. Early in January, a police constable was assassinated in Karak. Door-to-door polio vaccination drive takes place on specific days while there is no break in routine immunisation as 2,876 technicians have been reaching most of the 1.1 million target population at 1,270 EPI centres in the province.

In January last year, two lady health workers were murdered during a polio campaign in Swabi. A three-member committee, formed on the directives of chief minister to hold a fact-finding probe, cited security lapse as a reason of the murder of the vaccinators. In every drive about 30,000 policemen are deployed to guard the vaccinators.

Experts said that the government should do away with door-to-door polio vaccination drive and further strengthen the EPI to protect the workers from attacks.

“Such mishaps are not going to stop as in every campaign we lose health workers and policemen. These incidents have taken place everywhere in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and tribal districts,” they said.

The frontline workers knock every door in the campaign to administer oral polio vaccine (OPV) to children at their doorsteps while female workers go inside the houses.

The attackers, often riding motorcycles, fire at them and disappear. None of the perpetrators has been brought to justice so far.

Published in Dawn, August 3rd, 2021

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