Polio-free Pakistan

The mindset and extremism of people in tribal areas is also becoming a major reason for failure.

The emergency response to the polio campaign in Pakistan has been buzzing, but efforts to eradicate the polio virus seem to be fading with each passing day because polio vi­rus has once again been detected in 14 environmental samples collected from different districts of Pakistan. It has been confirmed that every few years we face failure to ap­proach the goal of polio-free Pakistan. These circum­stances require us to rethink our strategy, identify and remedy the causes or factors that are delaying the eradication of polio in Pakistan.

Unfortunately, polio- a devastating disease that crip­ples a person for life, has been eradicated worldwide but Pakistan is among the two countries in the world where the virus of this disease is still endemic. Periodic outbreaks of polio­myelitis were common in Africa and Asia but with sub-region­al emergency response, the virus’s former hotspots of Nigeria, India and Egypt no longer have any cases of wild polio. Accord­ing to experts, due to a lack of awareness among the people and inattention of the government, 30% of children do not receive complete immunizations. On the one hand, various diseases are spreading due to non-vaccination and on the other hand, the po­lio virus is not being eradicated owing to non-fulfilment of the polio vaccination target. So once again the detection of polio vi­rus in three samples from Peshawar, two from Hyderabad and two from Karachi indicates the shortcomings of the health de­partment along with the government. It has been observed that polio cases are increasing significantly after every change of political government in Pakistan. After the 2013 general elec­tions, the number of polio cases increased to 306, which later increased to 54 in 2015, 20 cases in 2016 and only 8 remained in 2017. 2018 was another election year and the number of cas­es soared again to 12. Although, more cases were reported na­tionwide in 2019. During 2021-2022, it was believed that polio would be eradicated instead there is an incline in polio cases in 2023, which is a testament to the poor performance of the PDM government and the interim government.

It is ironic that while approaching the goal of becoming a po­lio-free country, Pakistan is facing repeated setbacks and is nei­ther reassessing its strategy nor addressing these shortcomings due to which the eradication of polio is being delayed. There are four reasons for the delay in eradicating the disease: lack of a co­herent vision and unified strategy, failure of coordination at the national, provincial, district and UC levels and failure to focus on effective and standardized programs hinder the success of this campaign. The mindset and extremism of people in tribal areas is also becoming a major reason for failure.

One of the main reasons for not controlling polio has been the lack of a strong and coherent strategy. On the one hand, the gov­ernment lacks enough polio teams and on the other hand, door-to-door polio vaccination workers have only one or two days of training due to which they fail to satisfy the parents of children in remote areas and lose the trust of the parents. However, there is need to focus on administrative issues and irregularities in ap­pointments but it is dire difficult to rid the country of such ills without increasing commitment, eradicating malfeasance and implementing the strategic framework in good faith. This shows that the debilitating disease has not been completely eradicat­ed from Pakistan, nor is seriousness being shown to eliminate it, in a situation where there is a need to continue the anti-po­lio activities in the country with full vigor, there is also a need to keep an eye on virus transmission from neighboring countries to Pakistan. The genetic report of the polio virus found recently in Afghanistan has further confirmed its connection to Dera Is­mail Khan and Rawalpindi, making it clear that the polio virus has been circulating between the two neighboring countries.

After knowing all this, it becomes necessary to keep a close watch on cross-border movement and take internal measures to ensure eradication of poliovirus. This requires thorough public awareness and education about vaccination, as well as identifying solutions to the problem of contaminated water, which is the root cause. The only way to prevent polio is the use of polio vaccine and sanitation. We are getting free polio vaccine, yet we have not been able to elim­inate polio from the country then how will we resolve the causes of polio? Therefore, it is important that the government not only emphasizes on awareness campaigns rather also ensures the avail­ability of clean water to the general public as well as vaccination of every child up to the age of five years. The dream of polio-free Pak­istan will remain unfulfilled unless the government ensures door-to-door polio vaccination and eradicates the causes of polio.

Attiya Munawer
The writer is an activist and environ-mentalist. She covers human rights and politico-environ-mental issues. She tweets @AttiyaMunawer and can be reached at attiabutt121@gmail.com

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