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Over a million Pakistani children missed vaccinations amid fake scare against polio vaccine

by Robie de Guzman   |   Posted on Friday, May 3rd, 2019

Pakistani children are being lined up for vaccination | Courtesy : Reuters

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)

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Pakistan province struggles with hundreds of cases of children infected with HIV

by Robie de Guzman   |   Posted on Saturday, June 1st, 2019

A woman holds an HIV positive child | Courtesy: Image grabbed from a Reuters video

In the dusty town of Ratodero in southern Pakistan, doctors are struggling to cope with an alarming outbreak of young patients infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, with almost 700 of new cases over the past few months, most of them children.

But many of the families cannot afford proper treatment, which usually involves regular trips to Karachi for medicines.

“I have sold all my valuables for treatment,” said Tariq Ali, from Allah Dino Seelro, a small village in Ratodero, who was himself diagnosed as HIV positive last year. His sister died of AIDS and his wife and daughter are HIV positive. A nephew was diagnosed HIV positive a few days ago.

Some families like Nazeer Husain Shah, whose 16-month old infant girl was diagnosed HIV positive in February, could not fathom how the virus managed to infect their loved ones.

“At first I got furious. For me it was impossible to imagine that she was suffering from such a disease,” he said.

Officials suspect quack medical practitioners, who are widespread in poor towns and villages across Pakistan, of reusing syringes and providing improperly screened blood transfusions.

“He (doctor) used to apply same drip on fifty children without changing the needle,” said Imitaz Ali, a father who lost his 14-month old daughter while his two children were tested HIV positive. Unable to seek proper medical help, he blamed a quack practitioner for treating the children “like animals”.

From April 25 to May 25, 2019, federal health ministry officials say 681 people have tested positive for HIV, of whom 537 were children.

“This is a tip of the iceberg,” Dr Imran Akbar Arbani said in his small clinic, crowded with patients, “this (number) could be in the thousands, not hundreds,” he added.

Pakistani officials estimate the country has some 163,000 HIV and AIDS patients, of whom only 25,000 are registered with the provincial and federal AIDS control programs, according to Zafar Mirza, the prime minister’s adviser on health

But the experience of medical workers in Ratodero, in Larkana, the base of the powerful Bhutto political dynasty in Sindh province, suggest that the real numbers may be unknown.

The federal government has asked for help from the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. Foreign medical teams are in the country and the government has ordered 50,000 HIV kits and is setting up three treatment centres around Larkana.

The cases underline the dire state of healthcare in Pakistan, a nation of 208 million where almost a third of the population lives on under $3.20 a day and where many people cannot afford expensive tests or medicines. (REUTERS)

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Pakistan conducts missile test

by Robie de Guzman   |   Posted on Friday, May 24th, 2019

Courtesy : Reuters

Pakistan on Thursday (May 23) announced that it has conducted a training launch of a Shaheen II, surface-to-surface ballistic missile, which it said is capable of delivering conventional and nuclear weapons at a range of up to 1,500 miles.

Video sent by Pakistan’s Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) showed a missile being fired in the air and presumably landing in an unknown location at sea.

“Shaheen II is a highly capable missile which fully meets Pakistan’s strategic needs towards maintenance of deterrence stability in the region,” Pakistan’s military said in a statement that made no direct mention of its neighbour, India.

Pakistan has signaled a willingness to open peace talks with India as Prime Minister Narendra Modi appears set to return to power in New Delhi after an election fought in the shadow of renewed confrontation between the nuclear-armed enemies. (REUTERS)

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Save the Children reports 76,000 minors displaced by hostilities in Mindanao

by Aileen Cerrudo   |   Posted on Wednesday, March 27th, 2019

Children in war-torn Marawi continue taking classes in temporary learning shelters after the siege destroyed majority of the schools in the city

A recent report by Save the Children Foundation showed that 76,383 children in Mindanao have been displaced by the hostilities in the last two months.

They expressed concern over these children who suffer from hunger, trauma and have been missing out on school.

According to Save the Children Philippines Chief Executive Officer Albert Muyot “children’s experience of conflict ranges from killing and maiming, to witnessing the destruction of their homes, schools, communities and the death of their loved ones.”

From five conflict-affected Mindanao provinces, 127,306 individuals were displaced and 76,383 of them are children.

“Two years after the siege, there are still 66,000 people living in tents in Marawi, while there are 12,000 displaced Lumads or Indigenous People (7,200 of them are children) in Surigao del Sur due to heavy fighting for over a year now,” the group said.

READ: Protection of children in armed conflict passes into law

The group is calling for aid for these children and access to humanitarian support.

In February this year, they launched “Stop the War on Children”, a worldwide campaign. It seeks immediate action to provide aid for children in conflicted areas.

“There is still hope for children living in conflict today, but this will require concerted action from governments and non-state actors. We can and must stop the children of today from becoming the forgotten generations of tomorrow, ” according to Helle Thorning-Schmidt Chief Executive of Save the Children International.—Aileen Cerrudo

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