Health authorities are gearing up to start vaccination campaigns in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) following emergence of two new polio cases in the Khyber Agency and one in South Waziristan Agency (SWA) on Wednesday. The National Institute of Health (NIH), Islamabad, confirmed that three more unvaccinated children have tested positive for polio.
The three include six-month-old Munsif, son of Mohammad Wazir of village Balulkhel in Bara tehsil of Khyber Agency; 18-month-old Bilal, son of Noor Salim of village Akhun Talab in Bara tehsil, Khyber Agency; and 18-month-old Nazia, daughter of Musa Khan of village Kazha Panga in Birmal tehsil of South Waziristan Agency. Fata has recorded 89 cases of the nationwide 122 in 2014 so far and firmly stands in the way of global polio eradication effort. The World Health Organisation says that North, South and Khyber agencies are still polio endemic where lack of immunisation has led to outbreaks. North Waziristan Agency, where Taliban banned polio vaccination in June 2012, has 61 cases, Khyber Agency 17 cases, and South Waziristan Agency eight.
Seven agencies and six Frontier Regions (FRs) of Fata, directly governed by the federal government, have also put at risk the children in adjacent Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where Fata’s virus has been detected in three of its total 20 cases so far. Fata health director Dr Pervez Kamal told Dawn that they had started damage control measures after start of the high transmission season to prevent spread of polio and other vaccine-preventable childhood ailments. “We have carried out mass vaccination in FR Bannu against all nine vaccine-preventable diseases, including measles and polio, to protect children,” he said. Children in FR Bannu, which has recorded two cases in 2014, have also been given de-worming tablets to boost their immunity against infections.
He said that following the military campaign in North Waziristan Agency they had shifted the health staff to Bannu to provide better healthcare facilities to the displaced population living there. Dr Kamal said that another anti-polio vaccination campaign in Fata would start from September 8 in areas where security situation had improved. He said that a high-level meeting at the Fata Secretariat would discuss the vaccination strategy after which they would soon notify the areas where vaccination would be carried out. “Due to security reasons we have not been able to cover 100 per cent children in Bara, which is facing an outbreak currently despite four campaigns,” he said.
The Fata health director said that the government was being backed by the Pakistan Army in vaccination drives in Fata, especially in the UAE- supported vaccination campaign, to reach 100 per cent of the immunisable children. “Without complete coverage, the disease will continue to haunt children,” he said. Sindh has recorded 11 polio cases and Punjab and Balochistan one each this year so far. The authorities are unable to carry out door-to-door campaigns and only children on roadsides are vaccinated in Bara, due to which cases continue to emerge there. The WHO has recommended that only 100 per cent vaccination can help eradicate the virus from Fata and safeguard children at the national and international level from the disease. -dawn