Lack of data hurting polio eradication efforts

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: Photo By News Lens Pakistan / Matiullah Achakzai
Pakistani health worker administering polio drops to child during the anti polio campaign, Photo By News Lens Pakistan / Matiullah Achakzai

Karachi: Disparity in data available to the federal government affects the Polio Campaign in Karachi, Sindh.

National Institute of Population Studies (NIPS) is to carry out independent monitoring of polio campaigns and the number of children in 11 high-risk union councils.

Expanded Programme of Immunisation (EPI) Chief Rana Safdar while talking to News Lens Pakistan said there were a lot of divergence in the data available regarding the number of children in sensitive areas of Karachi, especially the 11 union councils declared to be high-risk zones. “Polio campaigns hinge on accuracy of data and this has been lacking so far for various reasons,” he said, “Some areas are too dangerous for the vaccinators to venture into and often there are inconsistency in the data we receive from local officials.”

These differences, referred by Safdar, became most evident in the last vaccination campaign conducted in these 11 high-risk union councils. According to the data made available by health officials in Karachi of the last National Immunisation Drive held in November 2014, the total number of children to be vaccinated in these areas was 2,013,710. However, the number of children vaccinated, according to Karachi Commissioner Shoaib Ahmed Siddiqui, was 2,065,928.

Around 52,218 additional children were vaccinated. On the other hand, according to the data obtained from EPI office in Sindh, the coverage for the last polio campaign held all over Karachi was 102 percent.

Safdar said, “A census hadn’t been conducted since 1998, health authorities worked on estimates which often resulted in discrepancies in the data. Normally we account for 10 percent wastage of the polio vaccine. But problems in Karachi are peculiar because in addition to security challenges there is also unchecked migration of people from all across the country.”

“This is why we thought it would be best to conduct independent monitoring of vaccination campaigns so we can cross check the population data available with us,” he added. Another reason was to keep a check on local campaign managers. “Sometimes when campaign managers cannot meet their targets they go to places such as schools and vaccinate children who are older than five years just to meet the numbers,” he said.

“With independent monitoring, for the next campaigns we will already know who and how many people live in a certain house. People won’t be able to dodge the vaccinators and vice versa.”

In last year November, Federal minister for health Saira Afzal Tarrar strictly warned health officials in Sindh for sending incorrect data to the federal government. Neither Sindh Health Minister Jam Mehtab Dahar nor Health Secretary Iqbal Durrani attend the meeting.

During a telephonic interview with News Lens Pakistan, Durrani admitted to problems in accessibility in areas of the 11 sensitive union councils. According to him, the vaccination coverage was 99 percent even though health workers were only able to cover 70 percent of the targeted areas. “If there is any problem on the ground then it is the responsibility of the local campaign manager,” he said, while insisting that the target had been met.

On the other hand, the data provided by the EPI Sindh’s office states that there are pockets of persistently missed children in 13 localities of the 11 union councils. A health worker, Farhat, who works in union council 4 of Baldia town said, besides danger to their lives vaccinators also stood up to a lot of rebuke from families who refused to vaccinate their children. 

New tactics

According to Health Director Karachi Dr Zafar Aijaz, 39 medical camps were set up last Friday in nine of the 11 high-risk union councils of Karachi to provide free health services and polio vaccination services.

He said the main objective for establishing these camps for four days was to immunize children with inactivated/inject able polio vaccine, being introduced for the first time in Pakistan. “The oral polio vaccine requires repeated doses in short spans of time and we haven’t been able to achieve that due to security concerns,” he added.

The last vaccination campaign in Karachi planned for December 18 had been called off due to security concerns. Aijaz said the camps would have been set up earlier, but it was delayed because adequate security arrangements couldn’t be made.

The union councils where the health camps were set up include: UC 4,5 and 8 of Gadap Town, UC 2 of Baldia Town, UC 9 of Site Town, UC 7 and 13 of Orangi Town and UC 1 and 2 of Landhi Town.

He said the camps will be set up in union councils 4, 5 and 8 of Gadap Town, union council 2 of Baldia Town, union council 9 of SITE Town, union councils 7 and 13 of Orangi Town, and union councils 1 and 2 of Landhi Town. The data gathered from these camps is still being tabulated.

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