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Govt undecided about Waziristan polio drive

February 02, 2013

PESHAWAR, Feb 2: The government continues to be undecided about the vaccination of around 300,000 children in North and South Waziristan agencies due to the Taliban ban on administration of polio drops to children.

However, parents have developed a mechanism to ensure provision of oral polio vaccine to save children from the crippling disease.

Since imposition of ban on vaccination in the two tribal agencies in June last year, top Fata Secretariat officials and representatives of the United Nations’ agencies have been scratching their heads to hammer out a strategy for resumption of immunisation, but the efforts have yet to bear fruit.

In the meantime, local residents have evolved their own ways to procure OPV and protect their children against the vaccine-preventable disease.

Taliban groups in both tribal agencies have linked provision of polio drops to children to cessation of US drone strikes in the area and stopped parents from vaccinating their children against polio since June 2012.

Taliban are skeptical that the US and the government might use polio campaign for espionage, arguing after surgeon Dr Shakil Afridi’s involvement in the fake vaccination campaign to reach Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad, it had been established that the enemies spied in the name of vaccination.

The standoff between the government and Taliban has deprived around 300,000 children under five from the administration of oral polio drops in North and South Waziristan bordering Afghanistan.

Local people said health officials could not store vaccines at the Agency Headquarters Hospital in Miramshah and others health facilities in North Waziristan due to reprisals by Taliban, who have cautioned to stay away from vaccination.

Helpless parents in the volatile area have left their children at the mercy of Allah.

“Nobody can talk about polio let alone administering OPV to children in Miramshah,” said a father, whose name has been withheld for security reasons.

However, Taliban in South Waziristan had softened their stand and children were allowed to get vaccines in the hospital, but field workers could not conduct house-to-house campaign, said tribal elders from Wana, the administrative headquarters of the agency.

“Children can take vaccines inside the government run- health centres in Wana,” said a local elder.

During off-the-record discussion, members of many families from North Waziristan said they were taking polio vaccines in small cans and jars to their homes secretly from Bannu district and administered it to their children.

“After realising that Taliban are reluctant to review their decision and the government is also least bothered about the issue, I have been bringing vaccines for my children from the government hospital in Bannu since,” said a tribesman from Miramshah.

He said the people, who were conscious about their children’s health, concealed vaccines in their luggage on the way to North Waziristan from Bannu and provided it to minor children.

An official at the district health office in Bannu said many parents from Waziristan visited the District Headquarters Hospital for immunisation to their children.

“Many parents bring their children to the main hospital in the city for providing polio drops, while there are the people, who take vaccines to their homes in the tribal area,” the official said.

He said health workers properly packed vaccines in flasks or bottles in the hospital and then handed them over to parents.

The official said the health directorate had also deputed mobile teams at Derry Ghundai checkpost, which separates tribal area from the settled areas, to provide polio drops to children.

The government instead of reaching these children has placed restrictions on parents and all incentives of the tribal people, including obtaining passports, national identity cards, domicile certificates etc, have been withdrawn by applying sections of the Frontier Crimes Regulation.

An official at the Fata health directorate in Peshawar said the political administration was sitting idle and relying on elders and clerics to persuade Taliban Commander Hafiz Gul Bhadur to revoke vaccination ban.

He said health officials in Peshawar awaited a breakthrough.