On Monday an angry mob set fire to a Basic Health Unit (BHU) in Mashokhel village. The villagers took the drastic step after hundreds of children were hospitalized, which according to the protesters was due to polio vaccine administration.
It did not take long for their cover to blow. Soon two videos surfaced; in one of them a person can be heard directing the children to act sick. The other video shows a man wailing in protest against the polio workers’ attitude towards people that refuse the vaccines, and how it was unfair of police to arrest them. Later in the video the same person is seen instructing some boys in school uniforms to lie down in hospital beds and pretend to be unconscious.
A case has been lodged against dozens of people while raids are underway to nab them.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Secretary has termed the whole episode as drama, and a conspiracy against the polio vaccination drive. Earlier the Coordinator EPI Peshawar, Kamran Afridi, had denied the allegations that the kids suffered due to vaccine. Afridi noted that several parents who refused to get their kids vaccinated are among the protesters.
The recently launched 3-day anti-polio drive had been progressing smoothly until this incident, wherein some children of a private school in Peshawar’s Madina Colony were brought to Maulvi Jee Hospital with complaints of diarrhea, nausea and headache. The Lady Reading Hospital (LRH), Khyber Teaching Hospital (KTH) and the Hayatabad Medical Complex (HMC) also received a huge number of children within no time.
Spokespersons from LRH, KTH, and HMC told the media that they had received 3500, 2000, and 3000 children, respectively, with the same concerns.
Commenting on the situation, a senior paediatrician said, “It seemed like a conspiracy.”
However, it was admitted that some of the hospitalized children had genuinely fallen sick. A paediatrician explained that anti-polio vaccine should be held back from children with flu and cold symptoms, which might have been the case for some.
Health Minister Dr Hisham Inamullah and Babar bin Atta, Prime Minister’s Focal Person on polio, and Peshawar Police Chief Qazi Jameelur Rahman held a press conference and ruled out the impression that the vaccine had either expired or had any other problem.
“There is nothing wrong with the vaccine. It is procured in Indonesia under the supervision of prominent religious scholars. The same vaccine is being used elsewhere in Pakistan and nothing has reported so far against it,” said Babar bin Atta.
During the briefing, he gave polio vaccine to Health Minister Hisham Inamullah, sitting next to him, as a gesture that there was nothing wrong with the vaccine.
Meanwhile, central president of Pakistan Paediatric Association Prof Gohar Rahman came out in support of polio and termed it the only solution to get Pakistan rid of poliovirus.
“Since Pakistan has successfully eradicated other diseases through frequent vaccination campaigns, the only way to overcome polio is rigorous immunisation. However, it is obvious that only in Pakistan but all over the world, lobbies opposing anti-polio vaccination is getting stronger and stronger,” explained president of the PPA.
Moreover, Chief Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) had taken notice of the incident and directed to launch investigation into the matter. A 10-memebr inquiry committee has been formed to probe into the matter and submit report within 48 hours.