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PESHAWAR, July 4: The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) has expressed the hope that its support to the government’s polio eradication efforts through third party and role of religious leaders will make inroads into the high-risk areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

“As of the end of June 2012, we have deployed 908 staff in more than 300 high-risk union councils of four provinces. We feel that this gives us 94 per cent coverage of high-risk union councils,” Dennis King, head of the Polio Section in Unicef Pakistan, told Dawn on Wednesday.

The Unicef in collaboration with the government had hired the district health communication support officers (DHSCOs) five years ago in 25 districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but removed 21 of them last year and only four were retained at the high-risk districts of Peshawar, Mardan, Nowshera and Charsadda.

Pakistan signed a contract with the Unicef under which the latter would recruit social mobilisation staff, while CHIP Training and Consulting Limited will implement the Unicef eyes access to high-risk KP, Fata areas programme at district and union council (UC) levels to pave the way for vaccination.The Unicef later created CoMNet, which comprised social mobilisers (SMs), UC support officers (UCSOs) and DHSCOs and was tasked with mobilising people, managing staff and overseeing the programme’s administrative, financial and other affairs.Currently, the Unicef is spending Rs230 million on the strategy to promote oral polio vaccine (OPV) in the 33 high-risk districts of the country to support the Augmented National Emergency Action Plan, 2012, according to Mr King.

He said 48 DHCSOs, 203 UCSOs and 657 SMs had been deployed across the country for working under the direct supervision of the CoMNet.

The Unicef representative said his organisation had hired 206 people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata and they included 121 SMs, 70 UCSOs and 15 DHCSOs until June.

He said given the problems, the Unicef was in the process of employing 115 more SMs in Fata to strengthen social mobilisation and counter anti-vaccine propaganda.

“The overall recruitment will be completed by the end of July, so the overall number is expected to increase to meet the needs in these priority areas,” he said.

Mr King said the DHCSOs were initially hired in collaboration with the government in 2006 but the recent hiring was made through a neutral third party because the strategy was successful and needed to be expanded.

“They would work independently. This approach has been adopted after the government’s approval,” he said.

He said the DHCSOs were responsible for developing district level communication and distribution plans and providing support and supervision to those working at the UC levels.

“Now, the COMNet has added two new posts in addition to the DHCSOs in the form of UCSOs and they are responsible for micro level plans through the UC polio eradication committee and social mobilisers for holding community level activities in collaboration with local partners,” he said.

The Unicef representative said work would continue with religious scholars and local communities against polio.