In its 2013 manifesto, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) pledged to eradicate polio completely from the country by 2016. After the 2013 elections, the PPP could not form a government in any province except Sindh.
With the passage of 18th Amendment in 2010, the health sector was devolved to the provinces. So far, PPP has not been able to curb polio in Sindh. In 2016, seven cases of polio had been identified in different parts of the province.
After the emergence of the seventh polio case in Sindh, the total number of polio cases in the country stands at 43 for this year. One of the polio cases was confirmed in Karachi. According to reports by the Sindh Emergency Operation Centre for Polio (EOC), one polio incident was also confirmed for the first time in Khairpur Mir District.
- Three-year polio history
Year Total cases
The Polio Campaign has been in the crosshair of militants in Pakistan.
Seven policemen were killed in broad daylight in Karachi in April this year because of their involvement in polio campaign, raising the toll of police officers killed during polio campaign to 10 in Karachi alone. The attack took place in Orangi Town Karachi. A splinter group of the Tahreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for the murders.
Pakistan’s anti-polio campaign has been a dangerous task. Since 2012, almost 100 people including polio health workers and law enforcement personals have been killed nationwide.
Some ultra-conservative elements in the country have been spreading fear regarding the ingredients used in the polio vaccine. Militants claim the vaccine either contains pork derivate or has contents that could render the child infertile. They say it is a Western conspiracy against Islamic values intended to deplete the population of Muslims, and unleashed a bloody campaign to stop children from taking the anti-polio drops.
The government’s effort to eradicate the scourge of polio, which is gone from every country in the world except for Pakistan and Afghanistan, has been inconsequential. It was when international pressure grew, and the Independent Monitory Board recommended restriction against travel to Pakistan, which was finally enforced on May 5, 2014, Pakistan began sincere effort to eradicate polio.
The World Health Organization says, “Despite the progress achieved since 1988, as long as a single child remains infected with polio virus, children in all countries are at risk of contracting the disease. The poliovirus can easily be imported into a polio-free country and can spread rapidly amongst unimmunized populations. Failure to eradicate polio could result in as many as 200,000 new cases every year, within 10 years, all over the world.”
Polio cannot be cured, only prevented.
However, during the third National Polio Campaign this year, 46,967 parents refused to get their children vaccinated in Pakistan.
The Sindh government has hired women health workers to administer the vaccine. To date, 2,500 neighborhood vaccinators are working in the city of 20 million people.
Specialized clinics to vaccinate polio were built in Karachi. However, instead of getting appreciation, the government’s intention was questioned by the parents of the children. They questioned the prioritization of polio over access to health care and clean drinking water.
In 2012 Sindh unveiled an ambitious Health Sector Strategy for the next eight years. The eight-year plan decided to focus on polio through the community-based Polio Plus program and malnutrition health packages
According to the date included in the 2012 strategic plan for health, women and children experience high rates of malnutrition. Approximately 40 percent children and 62 percent mothers are malnourished, while 60 percent of poor women do not have access to health facilities.
To track the promise made by the government, Truth Tracker talked to Saeed Ghani, Senator Pakistan People’s Party from Sindh. He said that his government has done everything possible, to eradicate polio in Sindh.
“I agree that some areas are vulnerable and shall remain so because of a paucity of the police force that makes deployment of police in every area of Sindh impossible,” said Ghani.
When Truth Tracker put the same question to the PTI lawmaker in the Sindh Assembly, Khurrum Sher Zaman said there was no seriousness about polio eradication in the government ranks. Almost every year, billions of rupees of irregularities were identified by the auditor general of Pakistan in the Sindh Health Sector, but it failed to stir the conscience of the authorities concerned, he said.
“Polio is not the priority of the government in Sindh. In spite of passing resolution after resolution in the Sindh Assembly, government’s inertia has prevailed,” Zaman said.
Nadeem Paracha, leader Jamaat-e-Islam, said little could be expected from a government that has not been able to keep its cities clean and garbage collected. He asked rhetorically how many police officers were required to clean Karachi.
“The issues is that health or education has never been the priority of the Sindh government and they do not care if the future generation is becoming paralyzed,” Paracha said.
The government, he said allowed hundreds of children to die in Thar because of the negligence to provide adequate health care resources.
The ineffectiveness of polio vaccine also has been raised by critiques who say it’s possible the government is using fake or expired polio drops.
Sindh EOC coordinator Fayaz Jatoi confirmed to Truth Tracker that two girls, aged 18 months and 11 months, had received multiple doses of polio vaccine but they contracted polio.
“The 18-month-old girl from Sujawal had received one polio dose during routine and six during special campaigns, while the other baby had three doses of polio vaccine during routine immunization drives and five during our campaigns,” said Jatoi.
A senior official from ECO told Truth Tracker that there is no international standard about the number of polio vaccine that should be given in a single dose. He said that it depends on the immune system of a child. If a child is malnourished we might give him/her six or seven drops in a single dose.
According to Dr Iqbal Memon considered authority on polio vaccination and currently running Ihssan Vaccination Centre for Polio in Karachi, dose of polio drops is not dependent on the nutritional status of ay child whether under nourished or well nourished. And the correct acceptable does of oral polio vaccine is 2 drops only.
The official at ECO further said that polio eradication is almost complete in Sindh. However, he said that cases where vaccinated children had contracted polio was due to either the child’s weak immune system or malnourishment. “There is no virus circulation in the environment while the polio vaccine, contrary to what has been said, is being appropriately handled through the cold chain management system,“ said the official. (the officer is not permitted to talk to media)
He also contested the figure of malnourished children in Sindh saying it could only be 10 percent but not 40 percent.
Ansar Burney, Chairman of the Ansar Burney Trust, told Truth Tracker that his organization has written many letters to the Sindh government on the seriousness of polio situation but to no avail. He said that whatever funds Sindh government received from abroad had been misused.
“Water, instead of polio vaccine (samples collected by Ansar Burney Trust revealed this) had been administered to children in Karachi.” He also noted that hardly Rs 250 is given a day to the polio workers while the volunteer is paid Rs 100. “Who would put his/her life in danger for such a paltry sum?” Burney asked.
He lamented that the Sindh government had the police force to give protocol to its ministers and other officials but when it comes to rendering service to the citizens the government claims there’s a police force shortage.
The Sindh government does not show evidence of giving priority to the complete eradication of polio from Sindh. There is growing concern that the neglected health sector could further hamper polio eradication drive. This year there were seven cases of polio in Sindh, so it has not been eradicated and the promise has been broken.