Anti-polio drive resumes in Swabi despite security fears

PESHAWAR: A three-day anti-polio drive kicked off in Swabi on Monday, resuming the region’s anti-polio campaign which was cancelled due to security concerns last week.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Health Department said 260,000 children will be vaccinated during the campaign.

According to the Swabi police, tight security measures have been taken in the district: 629 mobiles have been deployed for the anti-polio campaign, which will be run by 59 fixed teams, 25 transit teams and four roaming teams.

On Nov 30, Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) District Coordinator Dr. Yaqoob was shot dead and his driver injured when unidentified assailants opened fired on his car in Swabi, reported Dawn earlier. A policeman was gunned down in a separate attack on the same day.

The following morning, residents of Dodhar village and hospital staff protested against Dr Yaqoob’s killing, blocking the road for several hours and demanding arrests of the killers.

The three-day anti-polio campaign was scheduled to start on Nov 30 but the health workers refused to run it in protest against the government’s failure to arrest Dr Yaqoob’s killers. After Yaqoob’s killing, the health and EPI staff had refused to run door-to-door campaign over security fears, agreeing only to vaccinate children inside health centres.

Polio workers have long been targeted due to rumours that the polio immunisation drive is a front for espionage or a conspiracy to sterilise Muslims. The rumours have made inhabitants of lesser-developed parts of the country more wary of allowing immunisation.

Pakistan remains one of only two countries on the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) list of polio-endemic countries.

Although the number of polio cases in Pakistan during 2015 is reported to be 49 ─ down from 224 during the previous year according to the polio control cell ─ the country has been struggling to combat the number of refusals it receives, the spread of polio via air and land routes as well as what appears to be the declining quality of the immunisation campaign.

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