PESHAWAR, July 12: Ongoing militancy and the resultant lack of social mobilisation campaigns continue to affect polio eradication campaign in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas as the latest victim, a resident of Khyber Agency, has not received any dose of the oral polio vaccine (OPV).
One-year-old Ayesha Bibi, daughter of Zar Khan, a resident of Nala Khajori area of Bara tehsil, Khyber Agency, is the latest in the series of children who became crippled due to militancy that prevented access of vaccinators to children in areas where Taliban held sway.
Ayesha was tested positive at the National Institute of Health, Islamabad, on Friday.
According to the child’s parents, she had not received any dose of OPV because there was no vaccinator to administer the vaccine and protect her against the crippling ailment, officials told Dawn. The militancy-hit area in which the family lives is inaccessible for vaccination teams since September 2009.
This is the eighth polio case reported only from Khyber Agency this year during last six weeks, bringing the total number of polio cases in Fata to 12 now. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has reported four, and Sindh and Punjab two cases each this year so far.
The Fata (61 per cent) and KP (23 per cent) are responsible for 84 per cent of the polio cases this year. In 2012, Khyber Agency reported a total of 11 polio cases, eight of them in Bara tehsil.
Children in all the seven agencies of Fata have been the worst affected by the ban on OPV, which the Taliban have described as a ploy by the United States to spy on the Taliban to target them through drone attacks.
Over 160,000 children in North Waziristan and 157,000 children in South Waziristan are now at risk of contracting deadly ailments. The militants have used violence to implement the ban – since December 2012 at least 20 volunteer health workers and policemen have been assassinated for daring to defy the militants’ orders by participating in immunisation drives in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh provinces.
Two years ago, polio was wiped out in all but three countries of the world, including Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. In Pakistan, the recent recurrence of the disease marks several steps back from successful attempts at eradication: from just 28 cases in 2005, the country saw a rapid increase of up to 117 cases in 2008, and 198 cases in 2011.
“If we vaccinate children, we will contain the virus, but if we fail to vaccinate them, we will have an outbreak,” the officials said.
Another big problem looming large over the polio eradication efforts is defiance on the part of the parents to administer OPV to their children, they said.
The tribal areas are a mega challenge as the numbers of refusal cases had grown manifolds. The Fata and KP have about 70,000 refusal cases (roughly 35,000 each), badly hampering anti-polio efforts, they said.
There are no efforts on the ground to deal with refusals, they said and added that even the mobilisation campaigns carried out in the past had backfired as refusal cases continue to pose threats to the campaigns.