Peshawar nazim says by-laws in place whereby DC will lead fight against virus
PESHAWAR: Although consistent efforts have been made to curb the spread of polio, the virus continues to flourish in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Fata.
In recent times, experts have voiced concerns over Peshawar battling yet another front – this one against polio. The matter came to fore in October after samples of sewage water collected from Larama tested positive for the virus.
At this critical juncture, local government representatives plan to step in, taking the fight to a more community or grass-roots level.
A matter of priority
Peshawar district nazim Muhammad Asim Khan told The Express Tribune health is the local government’s first priority.
“Although we have not received adequate funds so far, we have people at the grass-roots level and are in a better position to counter poliovirus,” he said.
According to the nazim, a series of strategies have been adopted and by-laws put in place by the deputy commissioner will lead the fight against the virus.
“The first thing we need to do is root out misconceptions about oral polio vaccine,” he said.
The district nazim added insurgency had caused the virus to spread.
“If the virus can be eliminated in Africa, it can be eliminated from Pakistan,” Asim Khan said. “Parents should become part of the campaign to eliminate the virus.”
What went wrong?
The number of polio cases has been on the rise in recent years. In 2010, at least 144 polio cases were reported. This was followed by 198 cases in 2011. There was a sharp reduction in the virus with only 58 cases in 2012. However, the number of cases increased to 98 in 2013 and rose to 306 in 2014.
The international community began imposing restrictions on passengers travelling from Pakistan and they were expected to carry polio vaccination certificates.
“If you want to win a war against a powerful enemy, you will have to equip the ground troops – not only with techniques but morally as well,” a health expert said.
According to the expert, there are fundamental differences between existing polio campaigns with the ones that were conducted before 2010. In the past, it was difficult to send polio teams to inaccessible areas due to deteriorating law and order. A ban had also been imposed on polio drives in North and South Waziristan agencies. He added some cases were also reported from settled parts of K-P but they were limited in number.
“It was predicted that poliovirus would be eliminated soon but the situation changed abruptly,” he said.
“Authorities should focus on the quality rather than the quantity of the campaigns,” he said. “Campaigns are being carried out without intervals. This has created panic among parents who are concerned about why the government is focusing on polio alone.”
The health expert said polio workers are not offered attractive salary packages.
“How can you expect them to risk their lives to fight the disease for Rs400 of Rs500,” he said. “The relevant authorities must introduce attractive packages and provide perks and privileges to polio workers.”
Officials who are involved in immunisation drives said people have a rather myopic view of polio campaigns and do not realise the impact they can have.
“While we were holding meetings in November 2012, we were convinced that the virus will be eliminated from the region by March 2013,” one of the officials said. “But things completely changed when polio workers came under attack in December 2012.”
He added polio campaigns lost their direction during the transition period prior to the 2013 general elections.
“The interim government was involved in handling state affairs and could not focus on eradicating the virus,” he said. “Frequent bans have also harmed polio campaigns.”
When contacted, Akbar Khan, focal person for polio campaign in K-P, said the strategy to eliminate the virus has been completely altered. He added a monitoring system has been put in place to assess the quality of campaigns.
“Both quality and quantity are required since we don’t want to miss even a single child,” he said. According to Akbar, high-risk areas have been identified and are being targeted on a monthly basis. Continuous community protected vaccines have been administered and door-to-door campaigns are being conducted.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 24th, 2015.