ISLAMABAD: Pakistan, the world’s number one exporter of polio, has seen a rush on vaccines and angry scenes at hospitals after new World Health Organisation guidelines aimed at halting the crippling disease caused widespread confusion.
The WHO declared a “public health emergency” at the start of May after new polio cases began surfacing and spreading across borders from countries including Pakistan.
The disease remains endemic in Pakistan, which is responsible for 80% of polio cases diagnosed around the world this year.
The WHO advised Pakistani authorities to ensure all nationals and long-term residents planning to travel abroad were vaccinated.
But the government’s response has led to a rush on vaccines, confusion about certification and even angry scenes in hospitals.
All this on the eve of the peak summer travelling season, when tens of thousands of Pakistanis go to see relatives or celebrate weddings in countries with large diaspora populations, such as Britain.
Observers say that since the WHO had been holding extensive discussions with the government of Pakistan prior to the recommendations, authorities should have been better prepared for what was coming their way.
In a government paediatric clinic in Islamabad with walls decorated by posters of Minnie Mouse and Winnie the Pooh, an ugly scene breaks out as families line up to receive polio drops.
Staff ask latecomers to return the next day, prompting some who are due to travel the same night to start hectoring the unit’s director – who gives them short shrift.
“It’s not our job to give you the polio vaccine, our job is to look after sick children who arrive at the hospital” the doctor, Tabish Hazir, cried.
“We are doing this only because of the confusion at this stage,” he said, still angry.
Pakistan has undertaken countless UN-backed campaigns in recent years to try to stamp out polio.
But these efforts have been met with hostility in parts of the northwestern tribal areas, where Taliban warlords have banned vaccination as a Western spying plot. — AFP