In Layyah’s desert-like district of Chaubara there reside 18 families who have refused to vaccinate their children against polio this year.
This was confirmed by the district coordinator for polio, Ghulam Mustafa. He says police officials have also visited their homes but the families have refused to cooperate so far.
Following the refusals, doctors in Layyah have warned that a polio outbreak is waiting to happen in the area.
Layyah, a city in western Punjab, has been considered polio-free for 18 years. One polio case was reported from Union Council Marhan in 2001, but no case has been reported since. Overall, 107 cases of acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) have been reported in the area.
During anti-polio campaigns, 859 teams carry out immunisation drives, out of which 749 are mobile teams that visit people’s homes, said the district coordinator. There are 69 fixed teams to carry out polio duties at counters at hospitals, while 41 transit teams stand at bus stops to give the polio vaccine to travelling children.
Polio workers have also been harassed in places such as Chak 90/ML, but that did not deter them from their duties, he added.
Speaking to SAMAA TV, Rahim Khan, Abdul Mannan Khan, Zareef Khan and Bahawal Khan, some of the parents who refused to let their children have polio drops, say they did so because the vaccine made their children sick.
They claim they have always complied with the campaigns but the last time the scorching heat of summer and the vaccine made their children fall ill. They say they are ready to cooperate with the government but cannot put the health of their children at risk.
Dr Nazim Zaidi, a concerned doctor in the district, says the polio vaccine helps children stay healthy and polio-free. He said children might contract fever for a short period after the vaccination, but it is harmless and goes away.
Dr Zaidi says polio workers usually inform the families about this and even give medicines for treatment. He urged authorities to take notice of the situation before there is a polio outbreak in the district.
Deputy Commissioner Zeeshan Jawed says their mission is to make Layyah a polio-free zone. He credits the polio coordination committee for making Layyah polio-free for the past 18 years.
Every case of paralysis or disability is investigated for the polio virus, said health supervisor Ruqayya Bano. If it is diagnosed, they make a record of it immediately. Lauding lady health workers, she said they work through all seasons to make the anti-polio campaigns successful.
She says harassing, abducting and killing workers is a serious issue that needs to be looked into. Bano also suggested that the government work to include polio awareness in school curriculum and counter misinformation.
Politician Mirza Irfan Baig advocate says that legal action should be taken against people who refuse to vaccinate their children against polio. He also stressed on the plight of lady health workers who were trying their best to eliminate the disease.
Social media has played a huge role in spreading false propaganda about the polio vaccine and polio workers, said historian Nasir Mulk. He says it’s necessary to counter propaganda and educate people about the severity of the disease.
Pakistan has never been free of the polio virus. This year has seen 69 cases, the highest number of cases since 2014 when the disease affected 306 people. The disease will only be eradicated if every child is vaccinated against it so the virus can no longer survive in the environment.