Naheed Jahangir

PESHAWAR: “People don’t cooperate with us for administering polio vaccination drops to their children and some of them even ask us to leave their houses.”

This was revealed by Ghanam Jana, a lady health worker (LHW) in Lakki Marwat who told TNN that she is performing her duties in an area having 1,300 population, but some people there don’t have a good perception about vaccination and vaccinators. She said all people are not like this, and there are many people who cooperate with her and give her due respect. She said so many polio cases are surfacing in Lakki Marwat due to non-cooperation of some parents.

A total of 140 polio cases were reported in Pakistan in 2019, including 97 cases in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Lakki Marwat was the district with most cases in KP which reported 32 cases, followed by nearby Bannu where 26 cases were reported. Even this year, Lakki Marwat is on top in emergence of polio cases.

Non-cooperating parents

According to Ghanam Jana and other officials associated with polio eradication efforts, non-cooperating parents are to blame for the notoriety Lakki Marwat and nearby areas have gained in the world over polio cases.

Every month, a campaign is launched in Lakki Marwat to vaccinate 194,000 children below the age of five years and about 20,000 parents refuse vaccination to their children during every campaign. Officials said the local Ulema and district administration officials hold sessions with the refusing parents and manage to agree about 14,000 parents to administer polio vaccination drops to children, but there are 6,000 other parents who don’t agree through any mean and they are spoiling the whole effort to achieve the target of polio free region.

Barkatullah, a local resident who has four children aged between two and five years, told TNN that many people are dying in Lakki Marwat due to various other diseases, but the government has singled out polio and investing all its resources in it. He said he agrees to the role of Ulema in religion and politics, but don’t accept their role in vaccination campaign.

Misconceptions about vaccination

Although Barkatullah did not give any solid reason for his opposition to polio vaccination, but Ghulam Akbar Marwat, a senior journalist from Lakki Marwat, told TNN that may people consider vaccination a scheme of the West. He said the refusing parents believe that polio vaccination damages fertility and potency. The refusing parents believe that more people are not having children after marriage and more girls are born than boys because of polio vaccination. They believe that it is a conspiracy to deprive Muslims of male children.

Ghulam Akbar Marwat said there are two kinds of refusing parents i.e. demands-based and religion-based. He explained that some people link their political demands with vaccination and stage protests with warning that they will never give polio drops to their children until their demands are accepted. Such parents are dealt by the administration by accepting some or all of their demands. He said the services of Ulema have also been hired with payment to persuade the refusing parents to give vaccination drops to their children.

Role of Ulema

A senior vaccination official, wishing anonymity, said about 500 Ulema have been hired for making vaccination campaigns successful. Ghulam Akbar Marwat claimed that the district ameer gets Rs80,000 and union council level Ulema get Rs15,000 per month.

Hafiz Minhajuddin is one such religious leader who is pursuing parents to cooperate with vaccination teams. He said the Ulema make announcements in mosques through loud-speakers about the upcoming vaccination campaigns. He said they also emphasise importance of vaccination during their sermons and convey statements of Late Maulana Samiul Haq and Maulana Tariq Jameel to refusing parents about vaccination.

The local journalist said some Ulema are not performing their duties properly despite receiving salaries. He said the district administration officials are also reluctant to take action against powerful non-cooperating families.

Ghanam Jana said the refusing parents are also reluctant to accept other facilities being provided at basic health units and regional health centres due to presence of LHWs there. She said the refusing families don’t allow their women to visit the health centres and they remain deprived of important vaccination course due to which the women and children are infected with various diseases.