EDITORIAL: With nine more environmental samples from six districts testing positive for poliovirus, the nationwide toll for this year has risen to 64. This shows that the government’s efforts to contain and eliminate the virus have failed and Pakistan remains one of only two countries in the whole world to still have patients suffering from polio.
Sadly, the people themselves have been the biggest problem, blunting all official initiatives to vaccinate children across the country. Indeed, there are no other examples anywhere in the world where vaccination staff have been shot at and killed, routinely, and society itself ensures that little children are not provided the only protection from a disease that almost all other countries have successfully overcome.
According to the federal health minister, Dr Nadeem Jan, 90 percent of this year’s polio cases were imported from Afghanistan. This should set off serious alarm bells in Islamabad. Afghanistan is the only other country to still struggle with polio, of course, but its vulnerability comes from the four decades of nonstop war and destruction that it has suffered.
For Pakistan to be just as helpless is simply unacceptable. No doubt the millions of Afghan refugees that lived here for years and decades, who have become the subject of controversy because of the government’s deportation drive, have played a part in spreading the virus here.
But that does not rid the government of its responsibility. It’s often been advised to erect a more effective, overarching national narrative to undermine saboteurs and murderers who spread polio in the name of religion.
The fact that it continues to rely on the same few TV and radio ads as it did in the beginning of its unsuccessful campaign betrays an unforgivable level of inefficiency; especially since lives of little children are at stake.
It must also upgrade its health and medical infrastructure. Already this is a country where 60 to 70 percent of children are born stunted, most mothers and infants are malnourished, and there are very few medical facilities for a vast majority of the 250 million or so strong population, the fifth largest in the world.
Now the poliovirus, which all countries except Afghanistan and Pakistan have eradicated, is spreading again.
People must be made to understand that they do themselves and their children great harm by blocking and killing polio workers. Polio has no cure, and repeated vaccination is the only protection this country’s children have against it.
It is because of successful vaccination programs that the whole world, except two countries, have become polio-free. It’s a shame that we have not been able to do what all other countries have done.
Hopefully, the nine new positive testing samples will finally jolt the government into doing whatever is needed to defeat polio once and for all. Clearly, whatever it has tried so far has not been enough.
The government must go back to the drawing board, collect experts and hammer out a solution that works. It must also make sure nobody ever dares to gun down a polio worker again.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023