Parents Paying Rs500 To Polio Workers To Not Have Their Children Vaccinated
Lady health workers and polio volunteers are paid Rs500 by families who do not want to have their children vaccinated in the Guldara Baghicha area of Chaman near the Pak-Afghan border. Meanwhile, Afghanistan has lesser reported polio cases while Afghan refugees in Pakistan had no refusal cases.
Those against vaccination follow hardline religious leadership who consider vaccination anti-Islamic.
One female family head was of the view that her grandchildren should not receive polio vaccination because it would make them ‘dysfunctional’ – they wouldn’t be able to give birth to many children or even none.
She says that people say vaccinations bring more illnesses with them, a propaganda which is not grounded in reality but these rural Pashtun women believe in. Majority of the parents in these areas are illiterate and turn out to be the best targets for such fake propaganda.
One village woman, *Masooma Bibi revealed how they got away with not receiving vaccination. She said, “We pay Rs500 to the lady polio workers that she should give polio drops to my children from an angle that the drops go down their chins and not into their mouth, and then mark their fingers.”
The propaganda was boosted as a result of a fake video that went viral on social media, which showed children on hospital beds who had allegedly received polio drops, suffering from vomiting and loose motions. The person was later arrested, who informed that the video was fake. The propaganda, however, persisted.
Dr Aftab Kakar, a vaccination expert and Balochistan polio programme’s technical person, rejected the notion that the polio vaccine had a harmful impact on the health of children.
Dr Kakar stated, “2.4 million children are vaccinated in the polio campaigns. There were 50 thousand refusals this time owing to ‘misconception’.”
He added that the government and the World Health Organisation lobbied to counter the propaganda.
“Two thousand parents still remain ‘refusals’, who would be convinced through community mobilisation and verdicts of religious scholars,” said Dr Kakar.
An interesting thing mentioned by Dr Kakar was that most of the refusals were locals from across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, while there were no refusals in Afghan Refugee camps.
Dr Kakar said, “The polio vaccine refusal by parents was the reason the polio virus is still thriving. Last year, five children were reported as having the polio virus.”
Though several religious groups are against the polio vaccination, several religious scholars have given their verdict asking people to aid the ‘polio vaccination team in administration of polio drops’.
On the other side of the border, the Afghan Taliban are not that strict when it comes to polio vaccination. In the beginning of 2019, Afghan Taliban’s political office representative stated in a Moscow conference, “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has full cooperation with the United Nations, World Health Organisation and other health organisations. This cooperation will provide ground for polio workers to carry on with their work in the best way in all parts of Afghanistan.”
The Taliban also lifted the ban on the Red Cross who were engaged in the provision of health facilities across Afghanistan.
Red Cross Afghanistan head Juan-Pedro said, “We welcome the acknowledgment of our humanitarian principles and renewal of security guarantees to enable us to work in Afghanistan in favour of the people affected by the armed conflict in line with our exclusive humanitarian mission.”
One of polio campaign’s supporters in Afghanistan is the renowned scholar Maulana Anwar ul Haq Haqqani, who not only asks his followers to vaccinate but also vaccinates his children in every campaign. He attributes his support to the seminars held across Afghanistan, which have both religious leaders and health experts, and whose aim is to convince people that there was nothing unhealthy about the polio vaccine.
The main reason the religious hardliners believe that the polio campaign is a ‘spy campaign’ is the case of Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden who was traced through a fake vaccination campaign by the American spy agency. Due to this, several vaccination teams across the country have been attacked across the country.
Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan spokesperson Muhammad Khurasani was contacted via email about his stance on the polio vaccination program. He stated that they never attacked education institutions and health centers.
On April 25, 2019, female polio workers were in Chaman were fired upon, killing one and injuring another. Just one day before, an assistant sub-inspector of police escorting polio workers was killed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Bannu district.
Regarding the attacks on polio workers, Quetta Deputy Inspector General Abdul Razaq Cheema stated that religious hardliners were always attacking soft targets to spread terror, hence they attacked the polio workers.
He added, “As the fight against polio is an international programme, terrorists wanting attention of the international media attack vaccination teams.”
A UNICEF official, who was contacted via email, stated on the condition of anonymity that as of September 24, 2019, 82 polio cases had been reported globally, while 66 cases had been reported in Pakistan while 16 had been registered in Afghanistan,
He added, “There is significant population movement between Pakistan and Afghanistan which aids the circulation of the virus between the two countries. Hence both Pakistan and Afghanistan are considered one epidemiological block.”
The three common areas of population movement and virus circulation are classified into three common epidemiological blocks regardless of the country borders; southern corridor (areas around Baluchistan in Pakistan and Kandahar in Afghanistan), Central corridor (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s bordering areas in Pakistan and Paktika in Afghanistan), and northern corridor (KP in Pakistan and Nangahar and Kunar on Afghanistan side).
Polio workers remain in fear while administering polio vaccination to children in Pakistan. A community health worker, Shazia, 31, says that she is afraid of death every day when she ventures outside her home to take part in the polio campaign. “Every motorbike passing by me is a death threat because we don’t know when it is our time to be targeted as the rest of our fellow workers.”
Shazia is forced by her poor economic status to remain part of the polio workers; she is paid Rs16,500 per month. She said, “We feel tense and depressed by the task we are assigned in such a harsh atmosphere. We are looked upon as bad people, and parents who refuse vaccination also use abusive words against us.”
Regarding how authorities deal with refusing parents, Quetta Deputy Commissioner Captain (r) Zaffar Abbasi said that authorities used to cut off the electricity and gas supply of parents who refused vaccinations, but the policy had now been softened.
He added that those parents who threatened polio workers were nominated in First Information Reports under section 780-A of the Anti-Terrorist Act 780 A. He added, “Police, levies and the Frontier Corps personnel escort the polio vaccination teams.”
*Name changed for security reasons