Fake reports of polio control
Speaking in the Senate on Friday, Minister of State for National Health Services Saira Afzal Tarar made some startling disclosures about the persistence of polio. She told the House that provincial governments have been making misleading reports to the federal government about polio campaigns, which has led to the World Health Organisation's recent restrictions on Pakistanis travelling abroad. According to her, the immunization figures reported by districts and passed onward by the provinces to the Centre put the success rate as high as 80 to 90 percent whilst the real rate was alarmingly low. Although the Minister of State did not say where the federal government had found its new information, she came up with astounding statistics.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2014
Contrary to the general perception that immunization campaigns fared worst in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa because of its proximity to the extremists-infested tribal areas, it turns out that after Balochistan with its 16 percent success rate the other worst performer is Sindh. The province has just 29 percent immunization coverage, trailing far behind KPK where 52.2 percent children have received anti-polio vaccine. Punjab's is the most successful story with 68.5 percent coverage, yet pretty dismal considering that it does not face resistance from extremists who have killed nearly 50 health workers and their police escorts during vaccination drives in Karachi, parts of KPK and in Fata. In fact, minister Tarar told the Senators that only 0.5 percent of refusals to get children vaccinated were based on religious grounds - arguments used by religious extremists to attack vaccination teams. The key reasons for poor performance are related to lax attitude and a general lack of efficiency in the working of public health and other departments. For instance, a recent survey report pointed out that anti-polio drives in Punjab had missed many children, some because they were not present at home and others due to non-availability of vaccinators. Then there is also the issue of cold chain maintenance for the vaccination so it stays effective - a condition that gets neglected in many situations.
Whereas the WHO restriction is creating unnecessary problems - vaccine shortages and hassle for foreign-bound travellers to obtain immunization certificates - it is expected to serve as a catalyst for betterment. The provincial governments are now under pressure to make their respective immunization campaigns more effective. The issue also underscores the need for a proactive approach towards the Expanded Programme of Immunization under which children ought to be inoculated against nine diseases, including measles. Already the disease has claimed several victims in different parts of the country. The other day the KPK health directorate announced launching a province-wide anti-measles campaign beginning May 19. It is hoped the other provinces are also seized of the matter and adopting measures to prevent measles from erupting into an epidemic.