ISLAMABAD: The nation’s largest health initiative is in tatters.
Inefficient awareness building strategies, coupled with targeted attacks on polio teams and distrust among the populace, have led to a sharp increase in the number of families that refuse the oral polio vaccine.
According to official, unreleased documents prepared by Unicef Pakistan, available with The Express Tribune, the all-time low conversion rate of parents refusing the polio vaccine has completely crippled the country’s largest public sector health initiative.
Suspicions abound, trust goes missing
High-ranking officials within the polio programme claim that the ‘dirty’ role played by Dr Shakeel Afridi and some international donor agencies has significantly contributed to an upsurge in refusals.
“The leaked Abbotabad Commission Report has confirmed that international donor agencies have other motives that are clearly beyond their mandate,” says an intelligence officer, requesting anonymity.
According to Sona Bari, the spokesperson for the Global Polio Eradication initiative at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, country representative Dr Ni’ma Abid addressed this issue publicly in March. “WHO has always strongly stated that public health interventions should not be used for any purpose other than the improvement of health,” Bari adds firmly.
Millions of dollars have been spent by international donor agencies to restore the dented credibility of the programme. And yet, nothing seems to be working.
“Unicef appointed cricket star Shahid Afridi without even realizing that people that follow celebrities like Shahid Afridi do not refuse the polio vaccine in the first place,” mocked Maulana Tahir Ashrafi, a notable religious cleric of the Ulema Council.
The documents also mention the hundreds of highly paid Unicef communications and social mobilisation staffers, known as COMNet, that have been paralysed after the targeted attacks on polio teams.
“The role of social mobilisation is to build the right kind of linkages with communities, and opening doors to the right influencers and households is critical. But the security context will also need to facilitate COMNet presence in these areas,” the papers state.