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Low-key start of anti-polio drive

KARACHI, Jan 7: Amid tight security, a supplementary polio vaccination campaign discreetly resumed on Monday in selective high-risk union councils of four towns of the city’s central district.

Sindh Rangers and police personnel were witnessed guarding polio vaccination volunteers and team supervisors going from door to door to administer oral polio drops to children up to five years.

About 210,000 children in the central district could not be reached during the last sub-national immunisation campaign due to its abrupt halt following the murder of five polio workers in various towns of the city last month.

Since the targeted killing of their colleagues, polio workers as well as their supervisors and monitors lacked the confidence and morale they used to have, claimed a number of vaccination team members requesting anonymity.

A senior team member in Gulberg Town confided to Dawn that she had doubts the level of security and protection ensured on the resumption of the supplementary polio vaccination drive would be maintained during the national immunisation drive to begin later this month.

“Since today’s is a small exercise, the authorities have been able to provide protection to each and every mobile team and fixed points,” she said, but wondered how they would provide security to vaccinators when the polio drive would be held across the city.

Getting off to a wobbly start when the town health officers along with their deputies and officials in charge of their respective areas converged on Monday morning to carry out the remaining task, the publicity banners and posters unlike the previous campaigns were conspicuous by their absence. The tactful launch of the polio activities and deployment of Rangers and police along with the vaccination teams also took residents by surprise. “Initially, we were puzzled thinking that the law enforcers have come to search houses, but then the vaccinators were there to explain that the polio eradication activities had resumed,” said residents of KBR scheme, Al-Noor Society and Shafiq Colony areas.

Pointing out the plastic bags and a small box the team members were holding, a senior vaccinator said: “We have strictly been told to act in a low profile, not to wear caps inscribed with polio drive logo or use big ice box for vaccines.” However, they all worked in an organised way and also visited Montessori and nursery schools in the areas.

Replying to a question, a young resident of the Shafiq Colony union council said that his area had always remained peaceful during immunisation activities and claimed that people had been friendly to health workers.

However, people in general and health workers in particular said that sanitation and proper sewerage system in the area were the real issues needed to be addressed first.

About the day’s strategy, a senior worker in the union council said that three teams were there to cover about 750 children on Monday, but all of them moved in a group for security reasons leaving them to achieve only half of the target. The remaining work would be completed on Tuesday, the worker added.

District Central Deputy Commissioner Dr Syed Saifur Rahman told Dawn that in all 542 polio teams were deployed in 31 union councils of Gulberg, New Karachi, North Nazimabad and Liaquatabad on Monday.

All of them worked peacefully without any hindrance or refusals from parents, he said.

“Overall about 70 per cent of the targeted children have been covered today,” he claimed, adding that the remaining children would be visited on Tuesday.

Gulberg Town Health Officer Dr Shahnaz Bano said that it was a hectic day for officers and workers but they were satisfied that it remained peaceful. “We were well near the target with over 90 per cent coverage being reported from all the union councils, except the Shafiq Colony union council where it remained around 50 per cent,” she said.

Liaquatabad Town Health Officer Dr Aziz Baloch said that as many as 36,000 children were reached on Monday while the remaining ones would be approached on Tuesday that had been fixed as a catch-up day for the drive. He said that adequate deployment of Rangers helped boost the morale of polio workers, particularly those working in union councils 2, 10, 9 and 11 that are considered high polio risk areas.

Meanwhile, a source in the Commissioner’s House said that deputy commissioners of other districts would also decide the dates of resumption of the polio activities after finalising security arrangements within their respective areas.

In this regard, the source added, a meeting of district south administration with the deputy commissioner south in the chair is scheduled to be held on Jan 9 (Wednesday).