Pakistani residents gather outside a health centre torched by a mob on Monday in Peshawar. Agence France-Presse
Tariq Butt / NNI
Police in Peshawar arrested a man on Tuesday after he allegedly spread misinformation about the anti-polio vaccine in a series of videos that went viral on social media, a day after hundreds of children in different cities complained of illness and were admitted to hospitals in the midst of a province-wide anti-polio drive.
Videos circulating on Twitter show a resident of Peshawar’s Mashokhel area, Nazar Muhammad, in Hayatabad Medical Complex, where children from a school in Badhber were admitted with complaints of illness following administration of the anti-polio vaccine.
In the video, Nazar Muhammad alleges that administration of the vaccine causes children to fall unconscious. Then he turns to a group of children standing next to him and orders them to “fall asleep”. They then lie down on the hospital bed behind them as if they were unconscious.
When a boy gets up, Nazar Muhammad tells him to “fall asleep” again, after which he lies down on the bed again.
The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Khyber Pakhtunkhwa tweeted the videos with the caption: “EXPOSED: Watch how young innocent kids were made to lay down in hospital beds and pretend they’re suffering due to polio vaccination, to give a wrong message to masses regarding the #polio campaign.” KP and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas have long seen vaccine refusal cases.
According to officials and anti-polio campaign documents, suspicion about the vaccine stems from misconceptions about the oral polio vaccine (OPV) which have persisted since 2004, when obscurantist elements and militants in the area spread rumours that certain hormones were deliberately added to the OPV to make Muslim children sterile.
Panic spread across Peshawar on Monday after reports that 75 students at a school in Badhber — complaining of headaches, nausea and abdominal pain allegedly after being administered the anti-polio vaccine — were admitted to Hayatabad Medical Complex. Shortly after, doctors began releasing them, saying they were in stable condition.
Family members and area residents resorted to agitation in protest against the incident. They broke the doors and windows of a hospital during their protest, set a Basic Health Unit in the area on fire and held polio workers hostage for some time.
Panicked parents continued taking their children to hospitals for checkups till late at night — some 300 children visited Lady Reading Hospital — and mosques added further grist to the rumours by issuing intermittent warnings over their loudspeakers to not get children vaccinated, and that those who had must reach hospitals to avoid a reaction.
Most children were released after treatment, health workers said. The doctors at LRH said it was psychological whatever it was that was impacting the children. In Charsadda 800 children were hospitalised.
Deputy Superintendent of Police Saddar Sahibzada Sajjad said that a first information report (FIR) had been registered at the Badhber police station against identified individuals for setting fire to a Basic Health Unit and causing widespread panic by rumour-mongering.
He confirmed Nazar Muhammad’s arrest and said that further arrests would be made using videos of the protests and vandalism.
Separately, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto called Prime Minister Imran Khan ‘ghost employee’ of the National Assembly of Pakistan on Tuesday.
Bilawal Bhutto said, “If the National Assembly session is so expensive then we expect the leader of the house to be present”. He asserted that PM takes salary and acts as a ghost employee of the house. He also said that Imran Khan should attend every meeting and be answerable.
PPP chairman clarified that government protested yesterday not PPP as protesting is the work of opposition. He said, “Opposition batters the desks if I deliver a speech in English and they scream when I deliver it in Urdu.” While talking to media, Bilawal claimed that government has appointed controversial people in the cabinet. “We believe that it is in the benefit of Pakistan and the government that those individuals who are controversial and have links with outlawed organisations should be dismissed.”
Meanwhile, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari took a jibe at Prime Minister Imran Khan for his remarks regarding the border of Germany and Japan.
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