Pashto speakers appear to be the worst-hit ethnic group of this multi-ethnic city, as the terrorism-hit country is all set to break its previous records of highest number of polio cases that, health officials say, would hit the historic 250 mark by the end of this year.
The reason for this damaging affect, the officials cite, is the frequent inter-provincial movement in which the travellers carry the deadly polio virus from one place to another.
According to officials at the World Health Organisation (WHO), some 188 cases of polio have been reported from across the country till October 1. Of the total, majority of polio victims, 132, belong to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. While 33 children, mostly of age below five, have been crippled by the incurable disease in the militants-infested Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), the officials told Pakistan Today.
Four and two cases have, respectively, been reported from the insurgency-hit Balochistan and flood-hit Punjab province. What, however, appears to be alarming are the numbers reported from Sindh where the WHO officials counted the number of polio cases at 17.
Of the total, 16 polio victims belong to Karachi, most populated and multi-ethnic financial hub of the country. The only polio case reported from outside Karachi was that of District Sanghar, the health officials said.
“All but one of the total polio victims reported in Sindh are Pashtoons,” a WHO official told Pakistan Today, requesting anonymity for he was unauthorised to talk to the media.
The only case reported from the interior of Sindh, he said, involved a Birohi speaking family.
The WHO officials underline inter-provincial movement of the Pashto-speaking people as one of major reasons for the current outbreak of polio in Karachi. “Hundreds of people keep moving to and from KPK province from District West of the city on a daily basis,” the official said.
Even in case of Birohi family from Sanghar, the inter-city movement had been witnessed as a common attributable factor, he said. This was despite the fact that the Sindh health department had set up a vaccination center at the city’s entry and exit points at super highway’s Toll Plaza to vaccinate every below-five kid travelling with the parents, he added.
Other stumbling blocks, the official said, were security threat to vaccination teams and religious misconceptions in the predominantly conservative local society.
The resistors perceive that polio vaccine contains ingredients that render the men infertile and women getting adulthood prematurely.
“The number of refusals, both silent and straight, are increasing day by day,” said the WHO official.
Some four months ago, he recalled, the outbreak of polio cases in Karachi was of localised nature with District Central being its epicentre. “The virus has now spread through Punjab, Balochistan and the interior of Sindh,” he added.
Terming District West a “high risk” area for polio virus, the official said districts East and Central were equally dangerous.
“Whichever the district is, community is the same (Pashto speaking),” he said.