FATA polio-campaign in doldrums as vaccinators’ wages delayed

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: Photo By News Lens Pakistan / Matiullah Achakzai
Pakistani health worker giving the polio vaccination drops to a child during anti polio campaign in Pakistan Photo By News Lens Pakistan / Matiullah Achakzai

Jamrud, Khyber Agency: First it was threats from militants that kept polio-workers in Pakistan’s troubled tribal areas from venturing into a region with high incidence of polio. Now a different kind of threat looms over the polio- vaccination drive.

As the next polio campaign in Khyber Agency that saw the highest prevalence of the crippling disease in 2014 starts on March 1, 2015, unpaid polio-workers have threatened to walk out of the campaign.

Health workers and polio-volunteers in Khyber Agency say they will not administer polio-drops to children in the tribal areas if their wages for the past several campaigns are not paid immediately.

Navid Shinwari, a supervisor of the polio team, told News Lens Pakistan that they risked their lives working in the militancy-hit areas but the authorities failed to pay them.

“We are hired on daily-wage basis,” said Shinwari.”We have participated in seven anti-polio drives in Khyber Agency but we haven’t been paid yet.”

He said health workers who had been associated with the polio-vaccination campaigns for long had announced to boycott the drive.

Dr. Ikhtyar Khan, who supervises the polio-vaccination campaign in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), told News Lens Pakistan that the demand of the polio-workers for payment was justified. He said the health authorities would release wages of the health-workers soon.

“I am in contact with the authorities in the health department to resolve the issue before we start the next anti-polio drive in Khyber Agency,” said Ikhtyar.

Ikhtyar fears that the polio-virus prevalence in Khyber Agency may assume alarming proportions – Last year (2014) was the worst when 78 polio cases were detected in Khyber Agency alone.

He said only one case had been reported in 2015. It was in the Jamrud subdivision of Khyber Agency.

“In the next anti-polio campaign due in the first week of March, we will administer polio drops to nearly 7, 00,000 children in Khyber Agency,” said Ikhtiyar. “For this, we have constituted 2553 mobile and 245 fixed teams under the supervision of health officers.”

Malik Waris Khan, a former federal minister and a tribal elder based in the Bara subdivision of Khyber Agency, told News Lens Pakistan that people had realized the importance of polio drops.

“It would be good if the polio campaigns are conducted with the help and cooperation of local elders,” he suggested.

On the other hand, polio cases have registered a spike in parts of FATA where health workers did not administer polio-drops to thousands of children in the last several campaigns.

Bara, one of the subdivisions in Khyber Agency where the military has been carrying out operations against militants, is among the tribal districts of FATA where 78 children were affected by the polio-virus last year.

While the authorities are keen on comprehensive polio drives in high-incidence areas like Bara, militancy, military operations, the security situation and threats to polio-workers discourage them from going there, creating impediments for campaigns aimed at eradicating the virus.

Parents and civil society members in Khyber Agency want the government to pay health-workers so that children could be vaccinated for polio on time.

Naqib Shinwari, a health worker and father of two, told News Lens Pakistan that due to the inaccessible nature of the region and the law and order situation in FATA, there was a shortage of health workers, especially polio-workers.

“If the dispute is not resolved with the polio-workers, we would not be able to achieve our targets in the next polio campaign,” he said. “We have to administer polio-drops to thousands of children in Landikotal, Bara and Jamrud tehsils in Khyber Agency. We need all the health-workers we can get to help us with this huge task.”

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