Pakistan Arrests Parents Refusing Polio Vaccines for Their Kids

AP Photo/B.K. Bangash
AP Photo/B.K. Bangash

The Pakistani government is issuing arrest warrants for parents who refuse to vaccinate their children for polio. Unfortunately, the disease is still endemic to Pakistan.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said if people remain unvaccinated in Pakistan, Nigeria, and Afghanistan, it “could result in as many as 200,000 new cases every year in the next 10 years, worldwide.” Pakistan calculated over 306 polio cases, which was a “significant increase from previous years.” In Peshawar, officials issued hundreds of arrest warrants.

“We had 13,000 to 16,000 refusal cases,” claimed Deputy Police Commissioner Riaz Khan Mahsud. “There is total determination on our part. We shall convince parents of the good of vaccinating their children, but if they refuse, we shall detain them. There is no leniency.”

There are already nine cases of polio in Pakistan in 2015.

“There is no mercy, we have decided to deal with the refusal cases with iron hands,” continued Mahsud. “Anyone who refuses (the vaccine) will be sent to jail.”

Authorities canceled a polio campaign in Quetta, capital of the Balochistan province, due to security fears for the vaccination teams on Monday. The teams were set to vaccinate children under five years old. A source within the Balochistan Health Department told Dawn the government did not “provide timely security” for the teams.

“Without security guards, we cannot move our teams in the city,” said the source.

Security is a top issue after a vaccinator and driver were killed in Zhob, Balochistan, in January. Balochistan issued an emergency warning “to eradicate” the disease, which is the reason behind the emergency drives. The Taliban claims Pakistan’s polio vaccination campaign is “a symbol of the 2011 CIA plot that set up fake hepatitis-C vaccination campaign in an attempt to locate Osama bin Laden.” The terrorist group killed 65 workers since 2012. Also, as al-Qaeda and the Taliban continue to terrorize the northwest region, people flee the areas into other areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Dr. Imtiaz Ali Shah, head of the government’s polio monitoring group in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, said these people “took the virus with them everywhere they went.”

A senior health official told Reuters on Monday morning that the country wasted over $3.7 million on 1.3 million doses of vaccines. These vaccines included “diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B, and a bacteria that causes meningitis and pneumonia.” Dawn reports:

It must be stored at cold temperatures to remain effective but Pakistan’s power sector is chronically mismanaged and the country suffers several hours of power cuts a day.

Officials said the vaccines were exposed to fluctuating temperatures, possibly because of faulty generators. “There may have been issue with the generators, but the facts will become clear after the inquiry,” said Dr Saqlain Ahmad Gilani, the national programme manager at the Expanded Programme on Immunisation.


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