Refusal by parents to get oral polio vaccine (OPV) administered to their children has been hampering global polio eradication efforts as 149 of total 166 polio-affected children recorded in 2014 so far are those who have not received polio drops, according to data.
Pakistan has so far recorded 166 countrywide cases this year against 93 in 2013, mainly due to consistent trend among parents refusing to get OPV administered to their children on the basis of various misconceptions held by families, according to relevant officials.
A total of 119 cases have been registered so far in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) where issues of security and Taliban’s ban on immunisation in North and South Waziristan agencies and inaccessibility of health workers to the target children remain the main areas of concerns. The authorities aren’t able to record refusals in Fata, but the trend coming from the rest of the country regarding refusals is alarming and indications are that refusals will continue to haunt Pakistan’s anti-polio drive in future. Even outside Fata, which has often been blamed for blocking polio vaccination efforts, of the remaining 47 cases, 31 affected children were not administered OPV and regarded as cases of chronic refusals, they said.
Despite efforts the vaccination refusal cases have been a common feature as of the total 28 cases detected this year in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa the parents of 20 polio-affected children refused polio vaccination, they said. The officials said that of the nine cases in Peshawar six hadn’t received OPV due to defiance by their parents. In Bannu district, 11 of 12 polio-affected children remained unimmunised due to refusal by their parents. According to the record, 70 per cent of the children testing positive this year outside Fata had not been vaccinated due to refusal by parents. The officials said that there were no issues of security and inaccessibility, but still refusals couldn’t be brought down in the absence of mobilisation drive to create demand for vaccines and address such cases. Karachi has 13 cases in 2014 and eight of the children were crippled by poliomyelitis only because of their parents’ rejection of vaccination.
The problem of refusals has become a challenge for the health authorities and UN agencies engaged in the polio eradication campaign. The officials said that in settled areas, only 17 of the 48 polio-affected children had been vaccinated showing that the fault didn’t exist only in Fata where terrorism had hampered the campaign. Majority of refusing families lived in small pockets, but they were able to thwart the government’s effort despite two decades of vaccinations.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Health Department, undertaking the province-wide vaccination campaign targeting over five million children, is unlikely to make any breakthrough with regard to addressing the refusal cases. As far as a single virus remains anywhere in the world it can infect children, according to the World Health Organisation. Different communication strategies have failed to end the misconceptions about the OPV due to which the prolonged and costly campaign is yet to deliver. -dawn