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A lesson learnt — but too late

October 08, 2012

RAWALPINDI, Oct 7: It takes a hard blow at times to realise the effects of one’s carelessness.

For Bajaur resident Shamsul Haq, there is a reminder right in front of him in the form of his three-year-old son Sanaullah, who has been crippled because he did not get him vaccinated.

Sanaullah was diagnosed with polio in late Ramazan when his parents realised that all of a sudden he was unable to perform routine tasks with his right hand.

He was taken to the Agency Headquarter Hospital (AHQ) in Khar, Bajaur Agency, and later shifted to the Lady Reading Hospital, Peshawar, for a week.

The stool sample collected in Peshawar was sent to the National Institute of Health (NIH) that confirmed that the child was suffering from polio.

“I would be constantly travelling between my hometown and Rawalpindi for work, and my son missed his polio immunisation. Also, the local clerics and people in Bajaur told me that the vaccine was not good for my child’s health and he would be left sterile. They told me it was completely un-Islamic,” he recounted the reasons for not getting his child immunised in the national drives that had been taking place consistently.

Shamsul Haq was reluctant to tell exactly how many times he refused the teams who came for vaccination, but said: “The women in my family don’t interact with strangers, and did not want to come in front of males who were part of the polio team.”

He now repents this attitude as he said: “After seeing the disability of my child, I have realised the importance of the anti-polio drops.”

However, his son’s case has led to a tussle between the Punjab government and Fata administration as they desperately try to pass the buck for their failure to cover the child in their immunisation campaign.

Apparently, Shamsul Haq had moved out of Bajaur three years back with his family and his son was born in the garrison city’s thickly-populated Dhoke Mangtal.

A year later, the family moved back to Khar but travelled frequently to Pindi.

It remains unclear where the child contracted the virus from and since then the federal government has formed a four-member team to resolve this issue.

When contacted, Executive District Health Officer Dr Zafar Iqbal Gondal said the district health department was working hard to eradicate polio virus from the district.

“Sanaullah’s case is different as he spent more than a year in Bajaur and arrived again and left the city before the start of anti-polio campaign during Ramazan,” he claimed.

“The child got polio virus from Fata and not Rawalpindi,” Dr Gondal insisted, and then added, “The district health department provided proper treatment to the child at Benazir Bhutto Hospital under the supervision of senior doctors.”

He further said the child should be able to recover and his treatment would not be discontinued.

“The district health department is paying special attention to areas where a large number of families of Pashtun descent live as they had missed the immunisation in their home towns,” he said.

On the other hand, Shamsul Haq is least interested in the territorial wrangling.

“Is the disease treatable or not,” he questioned. “My son has to work and if his hand does not work then it will be increasing my hardships.”

He told Dawn that he had owned a shop in Bajaur that was closed after the ‘Inqelab’ (military action against Taliban) and he had to rent a house in Rawalpindi with his brother to work here.

“Of course, I am worried. I have six children to take care of,” he lamented.

But it’s quite obvious that he has learnt his lesson. “I will never refuse the polio vaccine,” he said.

According to the Extended Programme on Immunisation (EPI) data for October 5, 2012, about 264,041 children missed their anti-polio drops in the country, including 131,631 in Punjab, 36,546 in Sindh, 62,548 in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa, 14,470 in Fata, 17,302 in Balochistan and 1,544 in Islamabad.

The total target population in the country for anti-polio vaccination was 11,363,396 and the missed portion of 264,041 children is an alarming situation.

An official of the World Health Organisation (WHO), on condition of anonymity, told Dawn that the anti-polio campaign on September 15 was not launched in 24 districts of the country due to rain and flood-like situation and 503,894 children were living in remaining 63 districts across the country.