Sunday, November 25, 2012

Peshawar emerges as polio reservoir

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Health Department has decided to focus its anti-polio efforts in the province on Peshawar as the city has turned out to be a reservoir of the crippling virus. Also, the department has asked vaccinators to record the number of children missing vaccination against polio unlike the past when only the children immunised were reported. According to an official, Health Secretary Ishfaq Khan recently chaired a meeting, which ordered the start of special anti-polio vaccination campaigns in 42 high-risk union councils of Peshawar after learning that at least 10 new polio cases reported in the province’s five districts had originated in the capital city. Of these cases, three were from Mardan, two each from Swabi and Charsadda and one each from Upper Dir and Haripur. The official said participants also agreed that the scheduled immunisation campaigns in Peshawar would begin three to four days before the rest of the districts in the province so that monitoring teams could record the children, who missed vaccination. According to him, the health secretary directed the executive district officers (health) to activate the Union Council Polio Eradication Committees (UPECs) in their respective areas before using them for social mobilisation and monitoring of immunisation campaigns to reach the children missing vaccination. Dr Imtiaz Ali Shah, technical focal person for immunisation programme at the Chief Minister’s Secretariat, told Dawn that the anti-polio strategy had undergone a paradigm shift. “We’ve moved from reporting children covered by vaccinators to registering those missed by them so they could be accessed through the members of UPECs, including local elders, politicians and public representatives, for vaccination against polio,” he said. Dr Imtiaz said the children, who remained unvaccinated either for certain misconceptions or being missed by vaccinators, must be reached at all costs as they posed threats to millions of immunised children. He said a three-day campaign, which began on November 18, targeted 2.7 million children in high-risk UCs in the province due to shortage of vaccine. According to him, the government had planned to vaccinate five million children in the province but couldn’t do so due to availability of only 1.4 million doses against the required six million. The immunisation programme official said the authorities had to restrict the campaign to 404 of the province’s total 986 UCs and was further reducing list of high-risk UCs to 250 to conduct quality campaigns. He said the health secretary had issued directions for strengthening the short internal additional doses campaigns to increase the children’s immunity and ensure the elimination of virus. “We’ve planned to carry out four immunisation campaigns in the province during the next six months,” he said. Dr Shah said the Health Department had decided to run an effective campaign in low transmission season what could be the last campaign in the province. He said it had also been decided that each scheduled immunisation campaign in the province during the low transmission season (from January to May) would be followed by another targeted campaign in the high-risk UCs within 10 days. “The making of effective strategies for coverage of missed children between the campaigns has been ordered,” he said. The immunisation programme official said the campaign had begun in high-risk UCs in the province, except Peshawar, Kohat, Hangu and DI Khan, where campaigns had been deferred due to the start of Muharram. He said anti-polio campaigns would be carried out in four sensitive districts from Nov 29.