Anti-polio strategy bears fruit in Bara
LANDI KOAL, Dec 25: No new polio case has been reported in the conflict-hit Bara tehsil of Khyber Agency since July last owing to effective measures taken jointly by political administration, health workers and security forces, officials say.
They said that Bara reported nine polio cases out of the total 20, recorded in different parts of Fata till July last. The international health organisations had declared Bara a sanctuary of polio virus and one of the most dangerous areas in Pakistan.
The health workers couldn’t administer anti-polio drops to over 60,000 children in Bara under the age of five since 2009 owing to insecurity and threat posed by Lashkar-i-Islam, a local militant group.
The start of military operation in September 2009 and attacks by militants against security forces and health workers made the situation worse as polio teams were reluctant to carry out door-to-door campaign in most parts of Bara.
The Lashkar-i-Islam chief in one of his radio sermons had threatened to ‘break the legs’ of those health workers, who dared to enter the areas under his control. By that time almost 90 per cent of Bara was under his control.
Continuous denial of polio vaccine to thousands of children in Bara resulted in detection of 26 cases in the year 2010 and 19 more in 2011.
However, the displacement of people from Bara a year-and-a-half ago owing to the ongoing militancy and subsequent military operation
proved a blessing in disguise for nearly 35,000 children out of the total 60,000, who were denied polio vaccine since 2009.
After displacement of Bara people, health workers were able to administer polio vaccine to their children at Jalozai camp, transit centres established along the entry and exit points near Bara and in areas where the displaced people had settled down with host families in different parts of the country, especially Peshawar.
In the past, health workers were unable to administer polio drops to children in areas like Zaodin-Zakhakhel, Fort Salop, Kohi Malikdinkhel, Qamnarabad-Shalobar, Ajab Talab and Gud Malang, Dru Adda, Misri Chowk and Sangrha in Akkakhel owing to closure of link roads and imposition of curfew.
The number of children under the age of five in these areas was estimated to be around 25,000. The Fata Health Directorate with the assistance of local administration and Mehsud Scouts devised a three-pronged strategy to reach out to all left out children in those areas, officials said.
The political administration hired the services of 40 volunteers at a fixed salary of Rs7,000 per month to assist the already existing health teams. Mehsud Scouts agreed to provide security to the health teams. A decision was made in a meeting held in early July that instead of running polio drive on designated days, a continuous campaign would be launched in all those parts of Bara where health workers were denied entry during the last three years.
Health officials said that security forces played an important role by implementing the three-pronged strategy of cordoning off a locality and getting the health workers in to carry out vaccination, escorting polio teams during door-to-door campaign and assembling large number of children in a compound to administer them polio drops.
“The idea was to look out for ‘windows of opportunity’ to vaccinate maximum number of children in the affected areas,” said Dr Sarfaraz, World Health Organisation representative for Fata.
He said that the plan of a continuous vaccination proved beneficial as out of the total 25,000 unvaccinated children, nearly 22,000 were vaccinated successfully. He said that militants tried to disrupt the campaign but health workers showed great courage and resilience.
Fawad Afridi, supervisor of polio campaign in Bara, said that his team of committed workers kept the drive continued despite the fact that they were attacked twice by militants. No one was harmed in those attacks, he added.
“It is due to the coordinated efforts by different government agencies that no new case has been reported in Bara since July this year. It is a
great success for the fearless and committed health workers of Bara,” Mr Afridi said.
He added that the efforts of the political administration were also laudable as it provided all possible facilities to the health teams to make the campaign a success.
Mr Afridi said that he along with his team members conducted door-to-door campaign in all those areas that were declared out of bounds for
health workers only a year ago.