PESHAWAR: Health authorities in North Waziristan tribal district are keeping their fingers crossed that they will be able to interrupt the circulation of polio virus in the area by surpassing vaccination targets with the help of religious leaders.

The country’s all 10 polio cases reported since April this year came from North Waziristan with the latest two being confirmed by the National Polio Laboratory at the National Institute of Health, Islamabad, on June 14.

They included a 12-month-old boy from the Union Council I of Dorsally tehsil and an 11-month-old boy from Mirali tehsil, who had seen the onset of the debilitating neurodegenerative disease on May 8 and 27, respectively.

Health officials told Dawn that both the children didn’t receive any dose of the oral polio vaccine with one being a ‘known’ vaccination refusal case and the other a ‘silent’ one.

They say religious leaders accompanying health workers in immunisation drives

They said North Waziristan, which used to be the hub of polio virus under the control of the local Taliban militants until 2014, again came to the limelight again early April when a child was diagnosed with the vaccine-preventable disease – the first case in the country after a gap of 15 months.

The officials said 10 polio cases had been reported in three tehsils of the district since April amid the country’s hopes for the eradication of the virus.

They said they had so far carried out five anti-polio campaigns in the affected areas.

The officials said the main reason behind back-to-back infections in the district was the people’s reluctance to administer vaccine to their children over the misconception that the drops were meant to render recipients impotent and infertile.

They said the notion had turned out to be false as the children, who were vaccinated against polio two decades ago, were currently married and had children.

The officials said some people showed reluctance to vaccination arguing Islam prohibited medication before the occurrence of any disease.

They said they had enlisted support of religious scholars, who were prevailing upon parents that it was their duty to safeguard their children from all diseases, including polio, and the people were taking their advice seriously.

The officials said most prayer leaders in the endemic areas accompanied vaccinators to ensure the targeted children receive drops for protection from the infection.

They also complained that the people in some areas forced health workers to mark fingers of their children without administering anti-polio drops and therefore, it was believed that vaccination targets had been achieved, but that was not the case in reality.

The officials said they were holding vaccination awareness sessions with elders and parents, while the health workers went from door to door to ensure that all children are vaccinated and fake finger markings are not done.

They also said support of the district administration, police and paramilitary forces consolidated their vaccination effort.

The officials said health workers had administered inactivated polio vaccine to 122,267 children, who were 108 per cent of the 113,647 targeted ones, while the coverage of oral polio vaccine was 8,526, which was 102 per cent of the target.

They added that the total IPV and OPV target from (0-59 months) was 122,029, while the vaccination coverage achieved was 130,793, 107 per cent of the target.

Published in Dawn,June 19th, 2022

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