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An Afghan refugee woman waits her turn to receive a drop of polio vaccine for her child at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) supported Jalozai camp on the outskirts of Peshawar. -Reuters Photo
An Afghan refugee woman waits her turn to receive a drop of polio vaccine for her child at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) supported Jalozai camp on the outskirts of Peshawar. -Reuters Photo

PESHAWAR, Jan 1: Though backed by UN agencies, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa health department has miserably failed to persuade a good number of parents in the province to stop opposing polio vaccination of their children.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa health department has been unable to woo the parents to administer oral polio vaccine to their children despite the support of the UN agencies to eradicate the crippling disease.

Currently, polio is endemic in Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan only.

In 2012, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata had together recorded 46 of the 57 nationwide cases mainly due to the parents refusing polio vaccination immunisation. The refusal cases risked the lives of immunised children.

Sindh and Balochistan had recorded four new polio cases each, Punjab two and Gilgit-Baltistan one last year.

United Nations Children Fund (Unicef) and World Health Organisation (WHO) also failed to provide the health department with the desired mobilisation and technical support respectively to supplement its immunisation efforts and stem the tide of childhood ailments.

Currently, Pakistan, which had led the worldwide polio count with 194 cases in 2011 against 57 in 2012, faces with the problem of the immunisation refusal cases due to Taliban’s opposition to polio campaigns in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata.

Last year, the government with the support of the UN agencies kept changing strategies to vaccinate around 80,000 children, who missed out on any of the nine polio vaccination campaigns, but to no avail.

In 2005, Unicef hired district support coordination officers to mobilise parents at the community level and create demand for vaccines to woo the defiant parents to allow vaccination of their children.

However, the number of refusals didn’t drop, prompting the government in Nov 2009 to engage National Research and Development Foundation initially in two districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and as many agencies in Federally Administered Tribal Areas.By winning the support of religious scholars, the foundation delivered on the given tasks. Afterwards, it was asked to continue with the same activities in seven more districts of the province.

In light of the success of that intervention in which religious scholars visited from door to door in Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to reduce refusal cases, Unicef extended the project to 31 Khyber Pakhtunkhwa districts and Fata agencies until Nov 2010.In March 2012, Unicef through CHIP Training and Consulting Limited recruited 1,500 DCSOs under a Rs230 million programme for the same purpose, creating a demand for OPV in the country.

Unicef then parted ways with NRDF on whose support it had been banking for immunisation efforts and thus, consigning the two-year struggle to the dustbin.

The project, which was supposed to continue until Dec 31, 2012, was terminated in Sept.

During all these years, the immunisation refusal cases didn’t show any signs of reduction but posed threats to the immunised children.

Only last month, Unicef organised a seminar in which it again sought the help of religious leaders to cope with these refusal cases.

The main reservoir of virus remains Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, especially Peshawar, which serves as transition point to migrants and routine visitors.

The relevant officials said they had also conveyed concern to WHO about the efficacy of OPV.

According to them, the children, who tested positive for polio in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata, had received between two to 10 doses.

They said WHO, which was responsible for post-polio campaign monitoring, didn’t carry out the task on a wider scale, and a result, a clear picture of vaccination failures couldn’t emerge.

“For example, the health department through its vaccinators recorded 95 per cent coverage during the campaign but cases are still being recorded.

The health department wants the global health agency to monitor the campaign at the union council level, a request that fell on deaf ears in 2012,” an official said.