Over a million Pakistani children missed vaccinations amid fake scare against polio vaccine
Robie de Guzman • May 3, 2019 • 2340
A Federal government campaign to vaccinate more than 40 million children under five against polio in Pakistan has been suspended following a series of attacks on workers and police over the past week.
On April 23, a police officer responsible for protecting polio workers was gunned down in Bannu. The same day, a polio worker was injured with a knife in Lahore by a man refusing to allow his child to be vaccinated, citing a recent hoax video that claimed children were becoming ill after the immunisations.
The violence was preceded by a series of rumours intended to derail Pakistan’s campaign to eradicate the disease.
On April 22, several thousand children were taken to hospital in the north-west of the country by panicked parents after a video circulated on Facebook in which a man attested that children were falling sick following vaccinations.
The rumours spread like wildfire, triggering mass panic. Mobs burned a village health centre, blocked a highway and pelted cars with stones. Thirteen people are being investigated over the incident.
“The speed with which it (rumour) spread in the society, so quickly, it shows that there was some conspiracy against it (polio vaccinations). And obviously, government is investigating on those lines as well. The committee… Initially, the health department formed its own committee and we investigated this matter,” said Farooq Jameel, top Provincial Health official.
Vaccinators and police teams have previously been targeted in the country, where rumours have persisted about immunisation programmes being harmful or a cover for foreign interests.
But a shift to recruiting local workers for the door-to-door campaigns – people known and trusted in their communities and with the right language skills and access – had led to better acceptance.
“We knew that there was community mistrust, but community mistrust in one segment of society which refused vaccination due to religious beliefs will translate into the rest of the country, is something not seen in the past before in the polio program, because I’ve worked in the polio program myself for eight years and we haven’t seen any such phenomenon in the past in the program,” Babar Atta, Pakistan government’s focal person on polio said.
“But it clearly tells us that a lot of action and work now needs to be done at the community level at restoring public trust in vaccination campaigns,” the official added.
Pakistan has seen a 96% reduction in polio cases since 2014. It is one of three countries that have yet to eliminate the disease, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria. (REUTERS)
The desert locusts attacking Pakistan’s Punjab Province have caused heavy damage to crops, bringing economic losses to local farmers.
In a village of Punjab’s Okara district, a large area of farmland has been devastated by swarming locusts. Many young plants of potatoes have their leaves eaten, with only the stems left.
Ali Adna and his family members have been trying to drive locusts away by knocking on basins and making noise. Adna said he saw the measure from social media. It’s effective but exhausting so he and his family members take turns on duty to do the job.
“Every morning the locusts come at around 08:00 and start to gnaw the crops. They won’t stop until about 17:00. And what we can do is just knocking on the basin. We are thinking every day about any new method that can drive the locusts away,” he said.
The locust plague has disturbed agricultural activities for farmers in the district.
“We just sowed the wheat two days ago. After hearing about the approaching locusts, people had to dig out the wheat. The crops for feeding cows have also been destroyed. We are very anxious,” said Waris Ali, a farmer.
According to Pakistan’s Agriculture Department, the desert locusts arriving in Okara have been reduced to about 12 percent of the original amount after being tackled by previous areas. However, their capacity to causing damage should still get attention.
Local people in Okara said the area has seen more locusts this year than in the past. Though the people have been dealing with the locusts by using a pesticide, they hope to get stronger and more professional supports.
Islamabad – A 12-year-old girl has survived 18 hours buried under rubble and snow in Pakistan after a neighbor’s house where she took refuge with her family was buried by an avalanche.
Two of the girl’s brothers died in the incident.
So far 104 people have been killed by the adverse weather conditions affecting the Asian country.
The girl’s mother, Shehnaz Bibi, told Efe on Thursday that she took refuge with her husband and four children in a neighbor’s house along with four other families on Monday afternoon as snowfall blanketed the town of Bakwali in Neelum Valley.
Bibi said there was no noise before the avalanche struck the house, burying all those inside.
The woman was rescued three hours later and told her four children were presumed dead.
But an hour later Aqib, 3, was rescued alive.
Her daughter Samina, 12, was discovered alive on Tuesday morning, 18 hours after the house was buried by the snow. She had a broken leg.
“It is a miracle that she is alive,” said Bibi. “She was awake the whole night and didn’t eat anything.
“She had been calling for help the whole night.”
The girl survived in a hole amid the wooden remains of the collapsed five-story house.
After being rescued, Samina was transferred to a hospital in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani Kashmir.
“She has a fracture in her femur but she is stable now,” the deputy medical superintendent of the Combined Military Hospital, Nauman Manzoor, said.
The bodies of Bibi’s other two children were found later.
Her house, which the family fled believing it would collapse, survived the avalanche and is still standing.
“We regret why we chose to go to another house,” she said. “I’ve lost my two children just because of a wrong decision.”
Eighteen people were killed and 12 survived the avalanche.
In Kashmir, 77 people have been reported dead while 56 have been injured in a series of avalanches that buried valleys and villages on Monday, according to Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority.
Elsewhere, 20 people died in Balochistan province on Monday, while 23 others were injured in the snowstorms, which brought down houses and blocked roads.
In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the death toll stood at seven, while five have died in Gilgit Baltistan.
The number of fatalities resulting from the bad weather reached 104, while 96 have been injured and 236 houses have been destroyed in one of Pakistan’s harshest winters in recent memory.
Rescue operations were ongoing in the affected areas, with food and tents being distributed by army helicopters and soldiers working to reopen roads blocked by snow and debris.
Pakistan witnesses significant human loss and material damage every year during the monsoon season, but not usually during the winter months. EFE-EPA
Islamabad – At least 50 people were killed and 20 others remain missing after a series of avalanches hit several villages in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, officials said Tuesday.
In other parts of the country, 18 more have been killed due to heavy snowfall this winter season.
According to Saeed-Ur-Rehman Qureshi, the director of operations at the State Disaster Management Authority in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, a series of avalanches hit various villages in the Neelum Valley on Monday afternoon after several days of snowfall.
“So far, 50 people have been killed,” he told EFE, adding that the authorities feared that 20 others were missing amid the snow.
Local authorities have launched a rescue operation involving the country’s military to search for the missing people, Qureshi said.
In recent days, at least three more people have died in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir because of heavy rains and snowfall.
In the southwestern province of Balochistan, at least 15 people have been killed and 11 others injured in the last three days by heavy rains and snowfall that has shattered roofs, knocked down walls and cut off roads, Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority said in a statement.
On Monday, the provincial government declared state of emergency to deal with the situation.
The country’s meteorological department forecast continuous rain and snowfall over the next few days.
Every year, rainfall leads to significant human and property damage in South Asian countries, especially during the monsoon period between June and September.
One of the worst natural disasters in Pakistan’s history was the flooding in 2010 following an extraordinarily intense monsoon, which, combined with a massive summer thaw, left some 2,000 people dead and more than 20 million affected. EFE-EPA
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