RECENT reports reveal that the two children in KP who had contracted polio this year, had fake marks on their hands. Indelible blue ink is generally applied to a child’s finger after he or she has been vaccinated. But, it seems, the ways to avoid vaccinations are endless and continue to challenge all efforts to eradicate polio in the country. In April, after a gap of 15 months, two polio cases emerged in the country — both in Mir Ali council of North Waziristan. They surfaced at a time when our polio authorities thought they were nearing the end of the decades-long war against the crippling illness. Neither child had been administered the polio vaccine; the cases had been detected 10 days apart and in the same area. It may well be that such attempts to mislead vaccinators are prevalent in other parts of the country too. In fact, last June, a Unicef official had warned Pakistan’s polio managers to pay special attention to the “hundreds of thousands” of “missing” and “invisible” children — those whose parents continued to refuse the vaccine for their offspring and those who remained undocumented and outside the school network. He advised the government to try and understand why such parents were against the vaccine.
However, it is noteworthy that concerns about discrepancies in the official data had surfaced as far back as late 2018 when a third-party audit had revealed that the number of children who had received the polio vaccine was marked up by as much as 10pc in official reports in many areas. Subsequently, in July 2019, the then PM’s focal person on polio had admitted that the phenomenon of silent refusals was widespread in KP. Meanwhile, a report in this newspaper in September 2019 cited the Kabalgram union council medical officer in Shangla district as saying that as many as 60pc of parents refused to have their child vaccinated against polio. Clearly, the authorities should revise their strategy and plug the structural gaps so that their efforts do not go to waste.
Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2022