Police conducting search operation to arrest suspects
A policeman was killed after unidentified men attacked a polio team in a village in Karak Tuesday morning.
The polio team remained safe during the attack and have been shifted to a secure place, the police said. The policeman was driving a motorcycle as the polio workers were giving polio drops to the children.
A search operation is being held to arrest the suspects and the immunisation drive has been temporarily halted.
Pakistan is one of only two countries where polio remains endemic as attempts to stamp it out have been badly hit by opposition from militants and attacks on immunisation teams that have claimed over 80 lives since December 2012.
The country reported 84 cases of wild poliovirus (WPV) and 83 cases of circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2 (cVDPV2) in 2020, according to the Pakistan Polio Eradication Programme. It launched a countrywide anti-polio drive on Monday as part of its effort to curb the virus spread.
On the first day of the drive, Punjab reported 297 refusals, according to the Punjab polio programme.
At least 187 families didn’t allow polio workers to give anti-polio drops to their children in Rawalpindi, 22 in Lahore, nine in Dera Ghazi Khan, nine in Attock, and seven each in Bahawalpur and Layyah.
The programme managers said that the children will be given drops during the ‘catch up’ day. The catch up day is when polio workers hold meetings with the families of the children they have given the drops to and explain them about the virus and its dangers.
Refusals are quite common in the country because of misinformation about the virus and anti-polio drops, according to the Punjab polio programme.
The anti-polio campaign was temporarily suspended in Azad Kashmir because of the harsh weather conditions. Many areas couldn’t be reached because of heavy snow in Leepa Valley.
The government said that they have sent teams to the site to clear the roads so that the teams are able to access the villages and towns there.
Prior to 2019, Pakistan was closing in on zero cases of wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1), according to the National Emergency Action Plan for Polio Eradication 2020.
From January 2017 to mid-2018, the Polio Eradication Initiative (PEI) saw multiple months without a single case. However, by late 2018, the picture was not so promising, the report said. “A few conditions contributed to what became a surge in polio cases. There were early indications that the programme had been set back: the knock at the door for delivering polio vaccines was increasingly met by resistance on the part of caregivers. Then, some communities in impoverished areas escalated their refusals, as polio immunization became their chance to be heard for a right to clean water and health services.”
It said that “mistrust and misinformation about vaccine safety and the programme spread like wildfire via social media.” In 2019, large cohorts of unvaccinated children resulted in 147 WPV1 cases. In addition to this, for the first time since 2016, circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2 (cVDPV2) had also resurfaced in 22 cases in 2019.