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Pakistan: Villagers in Bajaur, Lakki end boycott of anti-polio drive | DAWN.

[March 12, 2020]

KHAR/LAKKI MARWAT: The officials on Wednesday convinced people of some localities in Bajaur and Lakki Marwat districts to end boycott of the anti-polio campaigns and not link vaccination of children with resolution of their problems.

A statement issued by Bajaur deputy commissioner Usman Mehsud said the people of Asil Targaoo, a remote area in Barang tehsil, agreed to allow vaccination of their children after successful talks between the local elders and a team of officials.

The officials told the elders that anti-polio drive was a national cause and it was only meant to keep children safe from the crippling disease. They said the district administration was determined to rid the tribal district of poliovirus by vaccinating all the targeted children, and told the elders that no one would be allowed to create hurdles.

After the announcement, 50 children were administered anti-polio drops.

Meanwhile, Lakki administration officials convinced the residents of Nali Chak and Shakh Quli Khan localities to end boycott of the vaccination drive. They had boycotted the anti-polio campaign, arguing that their areas were hit hard by excessive power outages and the authorities concerned were not resolving the problem. They complained that the Pesco authorities did not fulfill promises to reduce duration of power outages.

Deputy commissioner Abdul Haseeb had tasked Naurang additional assistant commissioner Aminullah Khan with visiting the rural areas and holding meetings with the elders and villagers.

Mr Aminullah convinced the residents of rural areas on immunisation of their children against the crippling disease.

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Pakistan: Senate body to call former polio focal person to explain rise in cases | DAWN.

[March 12, 2020] Ikram Junaidi writes:

ISLAMABAD: The Senate Standing Committee on National Health Services (NHS) expressed concern regarding rising polio cases in Pakistan after 27 cases were reported just this year.

During a meeting on Wednesday, committee members suggesting calling in former focal person on polio Babar Bin Atta to determine how the number of polio cases rose from eight in 2017 to 146 in 2019.

Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq, who is from the PML-N and served as the focal person on polio during the last PML-N government, said that the polio situation was under control while Dr Rana Safdar was in charge of the polio programme.

The number of cases fell from 306 to eight under Dr Safdar. Senator Farooq suggested that Mr Atta be called to a committee meeting and asked why cases increased.

Independent Senator Dilawar Khan agreed with her suggestion, saying people should know who was responsible for this situation.

Polio programme head says budget allocation for EPI should be reconsidered.

Committee chair Senator Khushbakht Shujaat said the poliovirus has been eradicated in many countries but has become a problem in Pakistan.

PPP Senator Behramand Tangi said most polio cases have been reported from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

He suggested the committee hold a single-agenda meeting on polio.

Dr Safdar, the national coordinator of the Emergency Operation Centre on Polio, who served at this post under the PML-N before being removed and then reappointed by the PTI, said that the budget allocation for the Expanded Programme of Immunisation (EPI) should be reconsidered.

Dr Safdar told Dawn that the EPI should be moved from the development budget to the regular budget, as children will continue to be born.

He added that Pakistan has been tackling this is in ‘project mode’ since 1978.

He said that there has always been an issue with low allocations and even lower releases, which effects the implementation of planned activities in a timely manner.

The committee decided to seek a thorough presentation on the percentage and coverage of immunisation and vaccination of children under the EPI, as well as a separate report on polio programme statistics and what has being done to control the damage that has been done in the recent past that resulted in the high number of cases.

The NHS committee also discussed in detail discriminationin promotions at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences, the proliferation of private hospitals and clinics in the capital, appointments in the Health Service Academy, delays in the functioning of the healthcare authority and the promotion of medical students to their next academic year in the case of the compartment of papers.

The committee recommended that budget session allowance be granted to doctors and paramedical staff who work beyond routine hours in Parliament House the same way that other government departments receive this allowance.

The NHS ministry told the committee there was no second opinion in this matter and the delay had occurred solely due to the lack of finances, for which a summary has been moved.

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Pakistan: Balochistan reports 5th polio case, raising Pakistan’s tally to 27 this year | The Express Tribune.

[March 12, 2020]

QUETTA: A two-year-old boy was tested positive for poliovirus in Zhob region of Balochistan on Wednesday, raising the province’s tally to five and Pakistan’s to 27 this year.

According to health officials, the child had not been administered the polio vaccine and his family was also found wanting in this connection. Samples of the child were taken on February 26 and 27.

The last case was reported on March 4 in the province.

Similarly, a 7-month-old child was diagnosed with polio virus in Sibi on February 28. The family was said to have moved to Sibi from Pishin a month ago.  Samples of the child were obtained on February 7.

As per the health authorities, the family of this child too was reported to have refused the vaccine during the special anti-polio vaccination completed in January.

Another polio case emerges in Balochistan

Earlier, an 18-month-old girl was diagnosed with the crippling in Habib Zai union council of Qila Abdullah, Chaman. This child’s family was also said to have refused administering the vaccine on the child.

The health ministry officials claimed that 80 per cent of the parents in UC Habib Zai refused administering anti-polio drops to their children in the last anti-polio vaccination drive.

As per the Pakistan Polio Eradication Programme’s website, the total number of polio cases reported in Pakistan this year has reached 27 – one from Punjab, eight from Sindh, 13 from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and five from Balochistan.

Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by poliovirus mainly affecting children under the age of five. It invades the nervous system and causes paralysis or even death.

While there is no cure for polio, vaccination is the most effective way to protect children from this crippling disease. Each time a child under the age of five is vaccinated, their protection against the virus is increased.

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Ghana: Polio immunization of more than 200,000 children in Ashanti begins | Ghana Business News.

[11th March 2020]

The Ashanti Regional Health Directorate has started the immunization of more than 200,000 children below the age of five, in 13 districts, under the monovalent type 2 oral polio vaccine (mOPV2) campaign.

The goal of the four-day exercise is to raise their immunity against poliovirus type 2 and this comes amid reported cases of the poliovirus type 2 (cVDPV2) in the Ahafo-Ano South East and Sekyere Kumawu Districts.

The outbreak of cVDPV2 in the two districts has necessitated what health authorities describe as “round zero sub-national mOPV2 campaign” in the 13 districts – identified to be at high risk, ahead of the immunization for the entire region, scheduled for April 1-4.

They include Asante-Akim North, Sekyere Afram Plains, Sekyere Central, Sekyere East, Sekyere Kumawu, Atwima Mponua and Offinso.

The rest are Ahafo-Ano South East, Ahafo-Ano South West, Atwima Nwabiagya North, Atwima Nwabiagya South, Offinso North and Ahafo-Ano North.

The expectation is that the campaign would strengthen surveillance on the polio disease and help to prevent any further outbreak in the country.

A statement issued and signed by Dr. Emmanuel Tinkorang, the Regional Health Director, and copied to the Ghana News Agency (GNA), said vaccinators would be visiting homes, schools, markets and other public places and called for the cooperation of everybody.

The vaccine, it said, was “extremely safe and effective at protecting children against lifelong polio paralysis”.

“If a population is fully immunized against polio, it will be protected against both wild polio and circulating vaccine derived poliovirus type 2”, the statement added.

Source: GNA

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Why Pakistan Isn’t Taking that Final Step towards Polio Eradication | Inter Press Service.

A polio vaccinator administers the oral polio vaccine to a child in Pakistan. The country remains one of three in the world where polio is yet to be eradicated. Credit: Zofeen T. Ebrahim/IPS

Zofeen Ebrahim writes:

KARACHI, Pakistan, Mar 11 2020 (IPS) - Dr. Rana Muhammad Safdar, the coordinator for Pakistan’s National Emergency Operations Centre for Polio Eradication, has sleepless nights thinking about what needs to be done for his country to eradicate polio.

“Not only me but the entire team is having sleepless nights thinking how best and how quickly we can reach the finish line,” he told IPS. “It’s always painful to hear a child getting paralysed for life from a vaccine-preventable disease.”

Last month, over 39 million children under the age of five were vaccinated across Pakistan. And a little more than 180,000 children were missed because their parents refused to have them vaccinated. While the number of missed children is marginal in comparison to those who were vaccinated, it has caused concern.

“The proportion of children missed in the last two campaigns due to refusals is very small (0.5 percent) but where clustered these can still provide the virus with the opportunity to survive longer and re-infect areas that we clean through so much hard work,” Safdar lamented.

The Pakistan Polio Eradication Programme began 26 years ago with the “largest surveillance network” in the world — an army of 260,000 polio vaccinators going door to door to administer oral polio vaccine (OPV) to children under five. Yet the country is only one of three in the world, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria (Nigeria has not reported any wild polio virus cases for a year, however there have been cases of vaccine-derived poliovirus in the West African nation), that has not eradicated the virus.

Last year, for the first time, Pakistan reported 25 positive Wild Poliovirus 1 (WPV1) cases across the country. Since the start of the year 23 new cases have been reported, with more expected to be recorded later this year.

The issue is so sensitive that every small gain by anti-vaccine groups takes the vaccination campaign two giant steps back. A video shared on Twitter last year, claiming that polio drops had some toxic ingredient making children sick, went viral and led to a round of refusals for months afterwards.

The reason for refusals include the same misconceptions that vaccination teams have been facing the past several years and include unfounded beliefs that; the programme is a western-funded campaign with some hidden agenda, polio drops are given to Muslim children to cause infertility and to stem the population of the Muslim community, it has some ingredients that are forbidden for Muslims, and that it causes paralysis.

Abrar Khan, a 29-year-old teacher, contracted polio when was just three. He’s no public health specialist, but Khan has an encyclopedia of knowledge about the virus. Five years ago he was a polio ambassador with the government’s Polio Eradication Initiative.

And he still makes it a point to visit homes in his locality of Baldia Town, in Karachi’s District West, that are marked by polio workers with an “R” because the family refused to have their children vaccinated. “I tell them it is their right to refuse; I try and convince them but even if they say yes to me, I have no way of knowing if they got their child vaccinated,” he told IPS in a phone interview.

He said people were more concerned about the other more common diseases their children where battling with, as well as the failing healthcare system. “One way to win these people over would be to provide better quality healthcare,” said Khan.

Swaleha Ahmed*, who asked for her real name not to printed because she holds a senior position within the polio programme, told IPS that if the government were to provide for the needs of young children, including paying for their healthcare, education and basic needs, “all those parents who hide their kids when polio workers visit their homes will come forward and get their kids registered to avail this childcare fund”. 

Ahmed, who has been with the programme for some 17 years, pointed out that because the campaign was so old, complacency has set in. And as parents continue to refuse to all their children to vaccinated, it was discovered that some vaccinators in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), where the virus originated and is circulating, were wrongly marking refusals as having been vaccinated.

“It happened in KP in the very remote areas where these workers have to walk miles in knee deep snow only to be told by families that they do not want their kids to be administered drops,” she said.

But the programme is trying to overcome this.

“We are telling polio workers that if they get refusals, it will not make a dent on their daily wages nor will they have to go again as someone else will be sent in their place if they face resistance,” said Ahmed. “They are also warned that if they are found to fake the process and mark the kids without first giving them drops, they can lose their jobs.”

But there is growing fatigue for this campaign from the side of parents as well. Nasik Abbas,who works as a supervisor in Tarnol, some 20 km from the federal capital, Islamabad, has been involved in the polio campaign for over 13 years. “Parents are now annoyed by the regular knocking at their door,” he told IPS.

Hifza Tahir, who works in Islamabad’s Bahria Town has been facing another dilemma. “They turn me away saying they will get their kids vaccinated from the hospital.”   

Ahmed said the working hours and ways of working for polio vaccinators, some 62 percent of whom are women, needed to be reevaluated.

“We should not bind these workers by time and attendance. We are dealing with kids and their parents. So we should give the workers flexi times in which they must cover the required number of homes,” said Ahmed. In some cases, she said, it would make more sense to visit the house later in the day when the decision maker, usually a father, was home from work, or early morning before the kids went to school. 

Ahmed, however, admitted that despite the challenges the polio programme has come a long way. “Today, the polio workers are better trained to deal with parents, have an ID card to prove their identity, are provided security and everything is documented,” she said.

The campaigns will continue with another round of special vaccination in high risk districts this month followed by a nationwide campaign in mid-April, said Safdar.

“Our efforts from December 2019 till April 2020 will push the virus back to 2017-18 levels and from thereon we will further push it towards zero polio by focusing on routine immunisation, improving basic health services, malnutrition as well as ensuring safe water and sanitation,” he said.

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Pakistan: Senate Body Seeks Reasons Behind New Polio Cases | UrduPoint.

[Wed 11th March 2020] Umer Jamshaid writes:

ISLAMABAD, (UrduPoint / Pakistan Point News - 11th Mar, 2020 ) :Senate Standing Committee on National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination on Wednesday sought details of polio situation and reasons behind increasing number of cases in the country.

The committee meeting which was chaired by Senator Khushbakht Shujaat expressed the desire to receive detailed briefing on Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI).

Some members of the committee were of the view that former head of polio immunization program should be invited to know the actual causes behind increasing number of polio cases.

The committee directed the Ministry of National Health Services to resolve the matter of health allowance and additional duties of doctors working at Parliament' pharmacy. Some members suggested to move this mater to Finance Bill.

Senator Ayesha Raza said that at one stage the polio cases reached at eight from 360 but again new polio cases were being reported regularly, which was concerning, she added.

National Coordinator Polio Immunization Program Dr Rana Safdar requested to review the existing budget of polio immunization program.

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