PESHAWAR: The health workers in North Waziristan continued to immunise children against poliomyelitis despite attacks on them by unidentified assailants.

Two policemen and a vaccinator were killed in North Waziristan tribal district on Tuesday by unidentified gunmen. “On the first day of the incident, fear gripped the health workers and campaign was suspended briefly. Later, we motivated them and the drive was started again,” a senior doctor associated with vaccination effort in North Waziristan told Dawn.

North Waziristan, located near the border with Afghanistan, is home to all 11 polio cases, detected countrywide this year so far. The region was in the notice of UN agencies and other funding organisations engaged in efforts to eradicate polio, officials said.

“The attack, for which no one has claimed responsibility so far, was meant to deter the vaccinators and halt the campaign to further expose children to the crippling ailment. The attack failed to achieve its objective as the door-to-door vaccination is in progress,” they said.

Health officials hope to achieve inoculation target in North Waziristan

On June 27, Chief Minister Mahmood Khan launched five-day province-wide polio vaccination campaign targeting 2.58 million children in 25 districts including North Waziristan, the epicentre of virus.

“We have made all security arrangements. Authorities have deployed 11,473 teams guarded by police throughout the province as attacks by armed men commonly riding motorbikes have become a common feature of every campaign,” said officials.

The health officials said that so far about 70 persons, including male and female vaccinators, were killed, mostly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. “The attackers haven’t been traced. The vaccinators deserve appreciation for remaining part of the drives despite attacks,” they added.

They said that they were hoping that poliovirus would be eradicated from the country as there was no case for 15 consecutive months, till April of the current year when cases surfaced in North Waziristan that dampened the chances of getting rid of the virus.

“In North Waziristan, the hotspot of crippling virus, we have deployed 566 teams backed by security men to achieve the target,” said health officials. They said that the area, which remained thick with militants, was now peaceful but some people opposed polio vaccination as they considered it a plot by western countries to sterile the recipients and cut population of the Muslims.

“We have enlisted support of the religious scholars, who are telling people that vaccination of children is the Islamic duty of parents to safeguard them against ailments. We have surpassed the target in Dattakhel area where the incident happened,” they said.

Officials said that a total of 8,500 children were inoculated against the registered target of 8,397. Total target of the district is 128,000, which will hopefully be met when the campaign will end on Friday. “Not only militancy and presence of staunch opponents to polio vaccination in the district but poverty is also a reason due to which the campaign faces problems,” they said.

They said that many people were suspicious about the polio vaccination. They said that such people argued that government didn’t provide water, electricity and other services to them but insisted on polio vaccination that developed suspicion among them. They added that such attitude of few people led to spread of the virus.

“Local health authorities have also issues, such as fake finger-marking of children. Vaccinators mark the fingers of children with indelible ink after their vaccination. In some cases, the parents force the vaccinators to mark the fingers but actually don’t let their children vaccinated,” said officials.

They said that the unvaccinated children, who were listed as vaccinated, became a source of transmitting the virus. “Of late, we have started strict monitoring to do away with fake finger-marking,” they added.

Published in Dawn, July 1st, 2022

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