ISLAMABAD: The decision to launch an anti-polio campaign in the whole of Pakistan and Afghanistan simultaneously has created a severe shortage of personnel for the security of the polio teams.
However, the Ministry of Interior has directed the commandant of the Frontier Constabulary (FC) to ensure the deployment of security officials wherever required.
The nationwide three-day polio campaign will start on May 16 during which over 36 million children under the age of five years will be immunised in the country.
Pakistan has promised and claimed at all international forums that the poliovirus would be eradicated from the country in 2016. A number of steps and strategies have been prepared to ensure that the country would not face an embarrassment at the international level next year.
KP seeks over 2,600 FC personnel for security of polio teams across province
An official working with the polio programme requesting not to be identified told Dawn that an improvement had been observed in the anti-polio drive.
“During 2014, as many as 306 cases of polio were reported in the country but in 2015 the number dropped to 54. In the fifth month of 2016, only 10 cases have been reported. This shows that the total number of polio cases will further decrease in the current year,” he said.
“We have been trying our best to completely eradicate the virus in the current year. The decision to take Afghanistan on board was also a part of this strategy.”
Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only countries which have been exporting the poliovirus to each other because a large number of people daily cross the border, he said.
“So it has been decided to hold the polio campaign in both the countries at the same time. But the decision has created a shortage of security personnel in Pakistan because unlike in the past the anti-polio campaign cannot be held in phases now. According to the standard operating procedure (SOP), security has to be provided to each polio team during the campaigns.”
The official said the KP health secretary had written a letter to the ministry of national health services (NHS), stating that 87 platoons of security officials were required for the security of the polio teams in the province.
“We are also expecting that the government of Balochistan would also ask for security officials because during a meeting of the national task force on polio eradication held in 2014 with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the chair, it was decided that the provinces can seek human resource from the federal government and even the services of the army can be utilised for the security of the polio teams,” he added.
A senior official of the Islamabad police explained to Dawn that a platoon of police consisted of 20 officials while an FC platoon comprised 30 officials.
He said if the KP government had asked for 87 platoons of the FC, it meant 2,610 personnel of the paramilitary force.
Secretary NHS Ayub Sheikh confirmed to Dawn that his ministry had received a letter from the KP government seeking security officials for the polio campaign.
“During almost every campaign in the past, some areas were left out and the polio teams covered them in different phases. However, this time we have decided to hold the polio campaign in all areas of provinces to vaccinate every child,” he said.
“The other reason for holding the polio campaign in all the districts at the same time is that a polio campaign will also start in Afghanistan from May 16. As the campaigns in both the countries will start simultaneously, we don’t want to miss a single child,” he said.
In reply to a question, Mr Sheikh said after receiving the request from KP, a letter had been written to the interior ministry to provide security personnel for the polio campaign.
“The interior ministry has directed the commandant of the FC to provide adequate officials for the campaign. So now we will get the FC officials wherever they will be required,” the secretary said.
It may be noted that Pakistan and Afghanistan share almost 2,500 kilometre-long border. Though children are vaccinated at all the legal entry points, a large number of people also entered the country through illegal routes along the porous border.
In January 2016, the chairman of the Technical Advisory Group, Dr Jean Marc Olive, had stressed that Pakistan and Afghanistan should make joint efforts to eradicate the poliovirus. He had added that Pakistan would not be able to eradicate the crippling disease on its own.