Displacement spurs polio drive

July 01, 2014 - 2:06:18 am

ISLAMABAD: Taking advantage of the displacement of children in large numbers from Pakistan’s northwester tribal region of North Waziristan due to the launch of a military operation there, health authorities have been able to vaccinate more than 192,442 previously unreachable children against polio, officials said.

 “We take it as a huge opportunity to target all the children of North Waziristan Agency (NWA) who haven’t been exposed to a vaccine that could save them from being crippled for life,” a senior official in the Prime Minister’s Monitoring and Coordination Cell on Polio Eradication said.

 Requesting anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media, the official said over 80,000 children were vaccinated at permanent transit points set up in FR Bannu, and around 20,000 in Hangu.

The rest of the children were vaccinated in Dera Ismail Khan, Bannu and Lakki Marwat districts, he added.

Ayesha Raza Farooq, the focal person at the PM’s polio cell, said the government needed “at least 10 days to track the eventual destination of the displaced people” in order to keep administering vaccine doses to them.

This would, however, have to be coupled with increasing the immunity of locals in the areas where the displaced population settle, she added.

Dr Rasheed Jooma, the former director-general of the health ministry, said vaccination drives must target both the IDPs and the populations which host them in order to properly eliminate the disease.

An official at the National Health Services ministry said on the condition of anonymity that the ongoing polio drive was not a spur of the moment initiative in response to the military operation, but it had been in the works “for long as part of the package to bring peace in the area”.