Friday, August 8, 2014

Pakistan: IDPs pose polio threat to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa children

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
Unvaccinated children from North Waziristan could infect other children, international health officials say.
About 160,000 unimmunised children have come to KP since the June start of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, the military counter-insurgency operation in North Waziristan, WHO Health Cluster and Emergency Co-ordinator Dr. Fawad Khan said.
The unvaccinated children are the result of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)'s campaign against immunisation in areas it controls or controlled, doctors say.
KP children who either missed a vaccination or are too young to have been vaccinated could be at risk.
"We are tracking the displaced people in Bannu, Lakki Marwat, Dera Ismail Khan, Peshawar and elsewhere to give them the oral polio vaccine [OPV]," Dr. Elias Durry, WHO emergency co-ordinator for polio eradication in Pakistan, said. "It is of paramount importance to vaccinate the displaced people repeatedly because they bear a potential risk to the local children."
"We have already administered the OPV to 200,000 people at 40 transit points to the displaced population, but there's a need to vaccinate all the 950,000 displaced persons regardless of their ages," Khan said. "We are launching a 10-day campaign to administer OPV to the displaced population to not only protect them, but also to protect the KP children."
TTP at fault for the disease's spread
IDPs and officials are faulting the TTP for the disease's spread. Pakistan is one of only three countries where polio remains endemic. As of July 31, it had confirmed 102 cases of polio this year, according to the Polio Global Eradication Initiative.
The TTP have deprived 700,000 children in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of access to the OPV, Dr. Abdul Latif, polio co-ordinator in Waziristan, said.
The Taliban are solely responsible for inflicting lifelong disability on the children, he said. "The infected children will remain a burden to their families even when they grow up, because of disabilities," he said.
Children in KP have also suffered.
"The parents of 35,000 children refused to let their children have OPV in every campaign in KP," he said. "Defiance by parents of OPV has greatly hurt the polio eradication effort."
Parents condemn militants
Aggressive efforts to eradicate polio are unlikely to materialise as long as the Taliban exist, Dr. Raees Khan of the KP Health Department said. "The army should kill all the Taliban militants to safeguard the country's children."
"Despite our willingness to vaccinate our children, we weren't able to do it," Gulzar Mehsud, an internally displaced person (IDP) with a polio-stricken son, said. "They targeted schools and healthcare facilities to leave us without medicine and education."
"The TTP has no mercy for children," he said. "My son fell victim to polio because of the Taliban's opposition … my family has been cursing them for rendering him handicapped." Muhammad Hanif, father of 6-month-old Habiba, who was diagnosed with poliomyelitis July 15, also condemned the TTP.
"The local prayer leader said vaccination was against Islam, and my daughter is paying the price," he said. "Now we are sure that the Taliban are the enemies of children."

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