PESHAWAR, Aug 3: The health department’s failure to educate the parents on the efficacy of oral polio vaccine (OPV) has been resulting in large-scale refusals against immunisation of children, officials say.
“In the last three-day campaign in July, 16,721 children could not be immunised mainly because of the parents’ misperceptions about the efficacy of the OPV,” the officials said.
They said that refusals against the OPV were so widespread that except Kohistan and Chitral, the rest of 23 KP districts had been regularly registering refusal cases.
Several measures taken by the government are yet to yield results because there is no field campaign to prevail upon the parents that vaccination is meant to safeguard their children against the crippling ailment. For instance, the parents refuse vaccination of their children on the argument that the OPV is a ploy designed to turn the recipient children infertile and impotent.
The health department doesn’t have any mechanism to clearly prove that the OPV is safe and contains no agent that causes impotency. As a result, in areas where literacy rate is very low the parents continue to resist polio vaccination of their children.
Several donor organisations, spearheaded by the WHO and the Unicef, have been financing the polio campaign from the past 15 years, but still achieving the goal of polio eradication seems to be a difficult task.
Last year, when the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Area (Fata) together recorded 100 cases of the total 142 cases in the country, the donor organisations expressed concern over the surge in polio cases and threatened to stop funding the campaign if the crippling disease was not eradicated this year. On its part the government has been changing strategies to cope with the situation, but instead of recording any improvement Pakistan is inching towards being known as the polio endemic country.
Officials in the UN said that the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had previously been giving militancy and violence as the reasons for the poor vaccination campaigns, but most of refusal cases were now emerging from peaceful areas. They said that over Rs500 million was being spent on each of the nine campaigns every year to provide the OPV to about five million children.
The UN agencies also argue that Pakistan has been the main source of transportation of polio viruses to the countries long declared polio-free and urging the government to apply political commitment to wipe out the disease as early as possible.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has implemented its own polio eradication strategy with the claim that the disease will be eliminated by end of 2011, but the province has so far recorded six cases of the total 60 in the country and indications are that the disease would continue to haunt the children.
The government has also been making efforts to involve the religious figures and teachers in the campaign, but some officials claim such steps fail to produce any tangible results.
However, Dr Jan Baz Afridi, the top polio officer in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, argues that they have brought down refusal cases from 26,000 to 16,000 during the past six months and are well on the way to end such cases by convincing the parents in due course of time.