Polio Eradication




WHO polio worker shot dead in Pakistan



 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF issued a statement on 21 July saying they are deeply saddened by the killing of Muhammad Ishaq, a local community worker who was part of the polio eradication initiative in Pakistan. Ishaq was shot and killed in the Gadap town area of Karachi on Friday evening 20 July.

Polio immunization activities were suspended in this area of Karachi earlier this week after a shooting incident injured two WHO staff members who were supporting the implementation and monitoring of a vaccination campaign.

Until activities were suspended Ishaq had worked with the national polio eradication effort as a Union Council Polio Worker for several months, helping to plan and implement vaccination campaigns to protect the most underserved and vulnerable children against this debilitating disease.

WHO notes that because of the dedication of people like Ishaq, Pakistan is this year closer than ever to the eradication of polio.

Polio remains endemic in only three countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. Ishaq was one of the thousands of people across Pakistan who worked selflessly in the battle to eradicate the disease.

The statement reads: “WHO, UNICEF and all of the polio partners in Pakistan and globally express their deepest sympathy to his family for this tragic loss. The partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative remain committed to supporting the Government of Pakistan and the people of Pakistan in their efforts to eradicate this devastating disease,”

Setback

Meanwhile, IRIN news reports from Pershawar on 18 July that efforts to combat polio in Pakistan have received a setback just as the fight against the disease had seemed to be going well, with the Global Polio Eradication Initiative reporting only 22 cases in the country this year, a distinct improvement on the 59 reported by the same date last year.

Hafiz Gul Bahadur, an influential Taliban commander in the North Waziristan tribal agency, has banned polio vaccinations, prompting Taliban leaders in South Waziristan and other tribal areas to follow suit, according to Maulana Mirza Jan, head of the shura or assembly of religious scholars, in Wana, the principal city of South Waziristan.

“It will be hard” to persuade the militant leaders to change their minds, until “orders come from Bahadur”, Jan told IRIN.

Fawad Khan, director of health services for the tribal belt, said “some 240,000 children would be affected in North and South Waziristan if the polio drops were not given”, and that the three-day anti-polio drive which began in the country on 16 July had been called off in North and South Waziristan. Government representatives are attempting to work out a deal with Taliban leaders, according to Khan.

IRIN says there are alarming signs the problem may be spreading beyond the tribal belt into other areas. On 16 July a doctor delivering polio drops in the Sohrab Goth area of Karachi, dominated by a Pashtoon population, had their vehicle shot at by unknown gunmen. The doctor, a Ghanaian national, and his Pakistani driver were injured.

“We cannot yet say the incident in Karachi is related to events in the tribal areas,” Michael Coleman, communication specialist for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), told IRIN from Islamabad. He, however, said the incident was disturbing, as teams delivering health services were not usually targeted.

Coleman confirmed the anti-polio drive in North and South Waziristan had been more or less suspended for the time being, given the danger to health workers, but that “teams have been able to reach parts of South Waziristan and vaccinate some 7,000 children – approximately 10% of the total number of under-five children in the agency”.

Drones and spies

The whole issue is a complex one, wrapped up in politics. Hafiz Gul Bahadur has said polio teams will be allowed into the tribal belt only if US drone attacks targeting militants are stopped.

The Taliban have also expressed fears health workers delivering polio drops may be used as spies, as happened in the case of Dr Shakil Afridi, the doctor who controversially used a mock anti-polio drive in a bid to pinpoint the location of al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden. Afridi has been sentenced to a 33-year jail term under the justice system of the Khyber Agency.

“Since the Afridi case, we were afraid there would be a backlash against polio teams affecting the campaign,” Rakshanda Bibi, a health worker who has previously visited tribal areas with anti-polio teams, told IRIN. “It is the innocent children who will suffer because of this,” she said.

The 198 polio cases in 2011 were the highest recorded anywhere in the world, triggering renewed efforts at the highest levels this year to ensure the problem was controlled.

Global Polio Eradication Initiative www.polioeradication.org/Dataandmonitorin g/Poliothisweek.aspx



 Date of upload: 26th Sep 2012

 

                                  
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