Moving ahead with polio vaccination in Pakistan!

This is a Pakpotpourri Exclusive

By: Yasmeen Ali

pakistan-polio-health-workers-isl-ap-670Nine anti-polio workers have been killed in a wave of assault that spread across Pakistan in December 2012. A crippling disease, polio increased to a 15 year record high of 198 in 2011. As a result of the recent attacks on polio teams, 3.5 million children are left unvaccinated.

About 75 percent of Pakistan’s polio cases can be traced back to certain areas, primarily FATA, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and neighboring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Quetta, in Baluchistan, is also difficult to enter, says Pakistan’s point person for polio, Shahnaz Wazir Ali(npr:’How Taliban are Thwarting the War on Polio’ by Jackie Northam on October 17th 2012).

Using Shakeel Afridi to gather information on the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden has obviously had huge negative fallout. Dr Shakil Afridi was accused of running a phony vaccination campaign, in which he collected DNA samples, that helped the American spy agency hunt down Bin Laden in May last year.

The people are afraid. They do not know who the people employed by WHO are. Are they genuinely trying to help eradicate polio? Are they fake; snooping and gathering information on them? After the expose on Shakil Afridi, the rumor of the vaccine having AIDS virus, resulting in making the children sterile and the vaccine administrators really being CIA agents has again reared its ugly head.

The current lawlessness does not help. Who knows what the cold box supposed to be containing vaccines really contains.  A gun? Can I let anyone unknown in my house with the same ease as I could a few years ago? I remember, probably an odd 5 years or so ago, three members of anti-polio vaccination team had visited my house in Lahore. Though not having children the age to be administered the vaccine, I had gladly allowed them the use of my lawns for offering prayers. Tea and refreshments were served before they could go on with their duty.  Can I be so open-hearted today?

Whereas I feel sorry for the fear of the uneducated, poor and deprived sections of the society, I cannot but be deeply grieved for the loss of lives of those who go house to house, looking for children and delivering extra doses of the polio vaccines. More often than not, there is filth, squalor and no sense of sanitation.

UNICEF and WHO suspended their anti-polio operations in Pakistan, recalling their staff owing to security threats reported The News of 20th December 2012 after the killing of two more of their people in Charsadda district.

Those who died had worked selflessly for eradication of this disease, going from house to house, talking to groups of people and individual parents to convince them to vaccinate their children.

According to Reuters on 20th December 2012, the Pakistani Clerics called for protests against polio workers killings. The report states that Tahir Ashrafi, who heads the moderate Pakistan Ulema Council, said that 24,000 mosques associated with his organization would preach against the killings of health workers during Friday prayers.

But is condemnation enough?

How do we go about the job of vaccination while protecting the lives of anti-polio workers? Will going house to house be safe for them? Can so many be provided personal security on one-to-one basis spread all over the country? Probably not.

Does this mean we shelve the anti-polio scheme? Leave our children to be crippled? Or is there a way whereby both the continuation of the anti-polio drive and the security of the workers can be ensured? Maybe there is!

Instead of going door to door, thus making security arrangements for the workers next to impossible- camps should be set up in local mosques. Each locality has one. Announcements for the camp being set up in the courtyard of the mosque can be made five times a day at least from two days prior to setting up the camps.

This will serve both objectives. First, with the strength of the mosque supporting the camps for anti-polio drive, confidence of the people; mostly uneducated will stand restored and second; with the workers going to and staying in one specified place, their security will be relatively easy.

An argument may be put forth here that by merely housing the camp in a mosque may not be enough to restore the confidence of the people in the anti-polio drive workers. The lack of confidence may persevere. WHO may like to enlist support of local pharmacies, doctors, hakeems and medicine men by providing exact prescribed dosage to them. This may be purchased or procured free of cost by the parents and administered to the children themselves.

In unstructured societies like Pakistan, the fallout of ill thought out schemes like using of Shakil Afridi, the costs can be high! In this case, 9 dead bodies and 3.5 million children unvaccinated!

But it is time to look objectively at the question posed-and move ahead!

The writer is author of,”A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.” She is an established writer having written in many national & international publications. This is her first article since her book came out in October 2012.

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  • GRK  On December 22, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    yasmeen is jahil qom me kuch nahi know how much i am bitter with our socalled masters sitting in pak secretariat islamabad regards grk

  • Nasir Ahmed  On December 22, 2012 at 4:21 pm

    Khan sahib……sorry I missed you on my recent visit to Karachi.

    You are ABSOLUTELY right…we are a ‘JAHIL QOM’ !… My son who is a cancer surgeon and I
    spent a lot of time and energy doing a fair amount of free surgeries at a charitable hospital….what was
    shocking was the amount of sheer MALPRACTICE and NEGLIGENCE that occurs within the medical community
    by so-called ‘educated’ physicians….most of them are simply greedy and have little or no regard for
    human life and dignity.

    So Yasmeen is simply shouting in the wilderness…does she think ANYONE will listen to her ?

    We need a CHANGE…we need a revolution, a revolution of our mind-set, then (maybe) we
    will be able to get ahead. Who are these sick demented people who can go around KILLING
    health workers and school girls ?

    Dr Nasir Ahmad

  • Nadeem Qureshi  On December 22, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    Do you think ‘sheikh ul islam’ tahirul qadri will bring about this revolution in lahore tomorrow?

  • Faisal  On December 23, 2012 at 12:32 am

    I don’t know about any change but he is no way near to ‘sheikh ul islam’.
    Sent from my BlackBerry® Smartphone using Telenor Connection.

  • idrees  On December 23, 2012 at 1:22 am

    When things begin to go wrong, they rely do snowball. In this state of Pakistan, the snowball effect has taken place because those who matter, don’t seem to mind, and those that don’t matter, can’t do anything with their mind.

  • Majyd Aziz  On December 23, 2012 at 1:23 am

    To get change, you have to shatter the demonic nexus of those elements in feudal+bureaucray+military that concentrate and maintain biradari system, non-merit appointments and facilities, and ages-old status quo.

    Who will do it? IK? Qadri? YAA? or should we succumb to this nexus for decades to come.

    Majyd Aziz

    *** This Message Has Been Sent Using BlackBerry Internet Service from Mobilink ***

  • GRK  On December 23, 2012 at 1:25 am

    ALLAH only knows better when we shall see a new dawn in our country.qadri come on majyd bhai he has cheated million of ex pakstanis who now live in norway,sweedon and denmark regards grk

  • Salman Abbasy  On December 23, 2012 at 1:39 am

    Good article, Yasmeen. There is merit in your suggestions. The mullah has leadership role and enormous influence among the disadvantaged segments of our society. Effort should aim at co-opting the mullah as in case of the AIDS awareness programme. A supplementary benefit could be to wean the mullah off the malign influence of the religious extremists.

    • Yasmeen Ali  On December 23, 2012 at 11:22 am

      Thank you Salman.

  • Gen Satti  On December 23, 2012 at 11:20 am

    Dear Yasmeen,

    Your analysis and observatins as well as the solution is implementable though a lot more will have to be done before not only polio vaccine campaign as well as other similar campaigns with Foreign or international funding for how so ever Noble the cause may be can function safely in Pakistan.I fear the foreign funded NGOs may also be targetted soon.
    The motive behind this beside the declared(by shadowy and unverifiable claimants)objective of saving Pakistan and Muslims from the intrigues and conspiracies of the West is very obviously to distort our image as a society ,portraying us as unreasonable and intolerant and to help our international isolation.If that be the motive the Taliban,Indians,Afghans.Iranians and West all become easily suspect and one or more could be behind this sinister campaign with varying motives,techniques and agendas.It is therefor imperative to establish for certain by our state agencies the real culprit or culprits.
    As for the Mosques and religious leaders to help implement this campaign I feel it has a caveat.Our Ministry of health after thorough research must verify that the medicine is safe and that the fears and allegations are unfounded and a proper verdict be given by the Government to provide the assurance and credibilty to the Religious leaders support for this and similar campaigns.Whether we like it or not Dr Shakeel Afridis case and his employment for a clandestine purpose is the main unfortunate reason for the common man to be suspicious of all foreign funded initiatives for how so ever noble the cause maybe.
    No half measures please ,to summarise ;
    1.Establish the culprits.
    2.Establish that the medicines or declared causes are genuine and Government to vouch for it.
    3.The clerics and saner segments of the society to help provide assurance and credibility.
    4.The state mechanism to monitor the NGOs,Donours activities and ensure their security as best as possible.

  • Ghias uddin Babar  On December 23, 2012 at 11:29 am

    Dear Professor Sahiba,I read your article with great interest: One that it was written by a learned author of a book n secondly it pertained to recent killings of polio workers/staff.
    Article carries out objective analysis with some positive, workable and thoughtful recommendations to help uneducated masses living in an
    unstructured society like ours in overcoming the menace like polio.
    I agree that condolences over the dead and the condemnation of the incidents is not enough, but we must carry the mission ahead and the effort should continue to move and not come to a stand still status. There is positive and practical message of a way forward in your article, which is highly appreciated.
    Thanking you for sharing your article.
    With best wishes and sincere regards, babar

  • SHOMU BHATTACHARYA  On December 23, 2012 at 11:30 am

    CHARSADDA was the place where the great Abdul Ghaffar Khan came from–I think we need another movement like his Khidai Khidmatgar all over the world –violence will take us nowhere.

  • K. Bajwa  On December 23, 2012 at 1:55 pm

    Superb article and an excellent recommendation.

    • Yasmeen Ali  On December 24, 2012 at 2:21 am

      Thank you Sir ji. Honored. 🙂

  • Sagheer Ahmed  On December 24, 2012 at 2:21 am

    Dear Madam Yasmin Saheba,
    Yes I agree with you that we have to move forward instead of waiting for an ideal situation which I am afraid do not see in the near future but we can not deprived 3.5 million children of our nation to be unaccented.I fully endorsed to your suggestions and proposal for moving ahead .I am positive that our respectable Molvi Saheban shall come forward and join in the Jihad against Polio and allow to camp in the premises of the mosques they are taking care.
    I am sure the competent authority shall look into it to what you have suggested and make it feasible for the common people to be benefited out of it.
    Thanks for sharing your views.
    Major(R ) Sagheer Ahmed

  • Wajahat Hussain  On December 24, 2012 at 10:40 am

    People have a right to be disgusted and gun shy … about vaccination programs after the Afridi affair. Vaccinations are a tricky things.
    They leave a population vulnerable. The only thing going for a foriegn entity to come and inject some thing into our bodies is the trust
    in them. That trust is now gone. People have seen the other side of how such programs can be used.

    The fact is perhaps living with polio is a better risk than vaccination at this point. Here is an idea, why doesnt WHO find out what is
    respoinsible for a polio epidemic. Then try and de contaminate the village or a town. For now that sounds like a more feasible idea.

    Modern medicines are not the panacea in practice of medicine in the world to day. The solution lies in creating human beings
    that can ward off diseases by themselves. The Mountain people have survived because they have been able to evolve to resist
    diseases. That is what should be the course of evoution in Pakistan. Continuation of the world natural order.

    Leave the people be. Give them a choice. Let them decide to get themselves vaccinated if they so choose. But do not enforce it on them.

    There will be collateral damage if an epidemic breaks out. Those who survive will grow up to be robust individuals. That is Gods
    will. Let us respect it.


    • Yasmeen Ali  On December 24, 2012 at 10:45 am

      This is the future of the children.We cannot support a crippled generation to serve the jihalat & fear of people. WHO had declared to implement by 2014 if polio is Not eradicated, a mandatory Yellow Card declaring every travelling Pakistani to be polio vaccinated.
      The condition was implemented 2 years earlier ie a few weeks ago.
      Director WHO was in Pakistan to resolve the issue & waive it till 2014.

  • Yasmeen Ali  On December 24, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    Carried by pravda:

  • Yasmeen Ali  On December 24, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    Carried by Op-Ed News:

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