PML-N demands commission on polio ‘disaster’

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ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) on Friday criticised the government for turning polio eradication programme into what it called a ‘disaster’ and demanded formation of a commission to fix responsibility, as the country has witnessed a sharp increase in the number of polio cases this year.

While asking the opposition party not to politicise the vaccination programme, Prime Minister’s Focal Person on Polio Eradication Babar Bin Atta, in a quick response to the opposition party’s demand, said the PML-N government had left behind poliovirus-filled gutters.

Speaking at a press conference, former health minister Saira Afzal Tarar and former focal person on polio eradication Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq regretted that the polio eradication programme appeared to be in complete disarray and highlighted the need for a focus on the immunisation campaign to avert threat to children.

Ms Tarar claimed that no door-to-door vaccination drive had been conducted across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa after April.

She said the chief ministers were not holding meetings on polio eradication and it seemed that district coordination officers (DCOs) had no coordination with the provincial governments. She said the state of affairs at the level of district governments was similar.

PM’s focal person blames previous govt for current situation

She criticised the prime minister’s focal person on polio eradication for his remarks that emergence of polio cases should not be a cause of alarm.

This year’s total number of victims of the crippling disease has reached 62, the highest since 2015.

About the 306 polio cases reported in 2014, Ms Tarar said they had been reported from the areas where nobody had access. She admitted that people had reservations over the immunisation programme during the PML-N tenure as well, but the law enforcement agencies and government teams had reached remote areas such as North and South Waziristan of the then Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and Killa Abdullah of Balochistan. She said she personally went to Balochistan by road and held dozens of meetings there. She said the present government had no excuse, as accessibility was no more an issue.

She drew the attention of the relevant authorities to a report the World Health Organisation’s technical advisory group that found the polio eradication programme of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in crisis.

According to the report, the KP Emergency Operations Centre is not aligned with the federal EOC, as roles and responsibilities of KP EOC are unclear.

As KP shares the major burden (46 cases) of the total 62 cases reported during the year in the country, the advisory group acknowledged that Fata’s merger with KP and fake finger markings were major challenges, but observed that the communication strategies being used by the KP polio programme were “not fit for the purpose”.

Ms Tarar warned the government that a failure of the programme could entail serious consequences. “Your planes would not be allowed to land and doors of employment abroad for the Pakistani nationals would be shut,” she said, a reference to the travel restrictions imposed on Pakistan on WHO’s recommendations.

Senator Farooq admitted that there were 306 polio cases across the country in 2014. But the previous government managed to reduce the tally to eight in 2017, she said.

Govt response

In a quick response to the presser of the PML-N representatives, Prime Minister’s Focal Person on Polio Eradication Babar Bin Atta said the main opposition party was playing with the future of children to hide its own corruption.

“Women leaders do not embody such baseless statements,” he remarked.

While asking them not to politicise the polio vaccination drive, Mr Atta said the PML-N government had left behind poliovirus-filled gutters. He also recalled that more than 200 poliovirus cases had emerged during the first year of the PML-N government.

He said foreign travel restrictions had been imposed on Pakistan during the PML-N term in office. The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government was committed to complete eradication of polio and would therefore “go to any length”, he added.

Published in ThePublic, September 14th, 2019

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