Naheed Jahangir

PESHAWAR: “I cannot go to school, but I can read at home,” said a child who was diagnosed with poliovirus at the age of one-and-a-half years, and then he brought books to home and started studying. Both of his legs were muted at such a small age. It was very difficult for him to console himself given the fact that all other children of his age could go to school and take part in sports and other activities.

This is the story of Dr Zahid Dawar Eidaki who hails from North Waziristan. Dr Zahid Dawar completed M.Phil in Pharm D and now he is serving as in-charge pharmacist at Hayatabad Medical Complex (HMC). He said his journey was not so easy and he braved a lot of difficulties to reach thus far.

Dr Zahid’s mother said she is not educated, but she knows that polio has no cure and every parent must ensure that their children get vaccine to prevent the disease. She said the life of parents become a harsh test when their child gets handicapped.

Dr Zahid has shown great courage and resolve to make a life for him. Many other polio infected persons have been seen living a handicapped life and always depending on others.

According to information obtained from Polio Eradication Department of KP through RTI, awareness programmes about the importance of polio vaccination are arranged every year. About 8,000 school awareness sessions and 2,000 madrassa awareness sessions have been held this year from April to August. As many as 9,000 community awareness sessions have also been held during this period to inform the parents and community members about the threat of poliovirus and create positive thinking about polio vaccination. The department’s statistics show that there are about 6.7 million children below the age of seven years in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Aimal Riaz, spokesman for Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) KP said some parents refused to administer polio drops to their children at Shami Road in Peshawar, but they agreed to cooperate with vaccination team after getting briefing. He said the negative propaganda by a citizen, Nazir Muhammad also caused damage to vaccination campaign in Mashukhel area of Peshawar in April. He said Nazir Muhammad was given polio drops before the media after awareness session with him.

Sidra, a mother of three children in Mohmandabad area of Peshawar, said she used to give polio vaccine to her children, but stopped doing so after several children fainted after consuming vaccination drops in Mashukhel. However, she said a health department team convinced her husband to start administering polio vaccine to children again by telling him about the possible horrific outcome if the vaccine was missed.

The situation remained under control to some extend in 2017 and 2018 when eight and 12 polio cases respectively surfaced in Pakistan, but the situation is alarming this year as 64 cases have surfaced in the country so far with 48 cases in KP and five each in Sindh, Balochistan and Punjab. In KP, Bannu is the most affected region with 22 cases, while 10 cases have surfaced from tribal districts.

Kashif Ahmed, a resident of Bashirabad area of Peshawar, said he had some misconceptions about polio vaccination, but these misconceptions were removed after attending a workshop of EOC.

Muhammad Sohail, a Khateeb of Jamia Abu Bakkar Siddique Masjid Kohat Bus Stand, said rumours and misconceptions always damage vaccination drive in KP.

“I am a prayer leader and it’s not my job to go to every house and convince people to administer vaccine to their children. We don’t know about the composition of the polio vaccine,” he said.

However, he made it clear that spreading rumours by clerics about vaccination without solid proof is also unfair and it shouldn’t happen. He said he gives polio drops to his children because he cares about them.

Officials said every year Ulema are given training about vaccination campaign. They said the edict of over 12 Ulema of the world is available which states that polio vaccine is safe and it has no negative effects. Polio Coordinator Dr Irfan said polio vaccine has never caused adverse reaction in not even a single case throughout the world. He said sometimes children have some other illness which appears after vaccination and parents think that the illness is caused by vaccination.

Technical Focal Person Dr Shazia Imtiaz said polio is a disease which affects the nervous system and paralyses feet and hands of the affected persons. She said polio symptoms appear in children below five years of age.

Dr Imtiaz said poliovirus can shift from one country to other. He said Karachi, Peshawar and Quetta are most vulnerable cities with the virus is affecting children.

The Anti-Polio Department said refusing parents are of three types. The first type relates to religious grounds where parents misguided by clerics believe that vaccine is not good for their children. The second type of refusing parents are those who believe that vaccination will cause infertility, early puberty or other weakness to their children. The third type of parents are those who refuse to administer polio vaccine to their children in protest against their unresolved political or livelihood problems.

The department said about 40 percent parents refuse to cooperate with vaccination teams every year since 2011. Most of the parents are convinced through awareness sessions and meeting, but still there are 5 percent parents who cannot be convinced through any mean.