Who Will Beat Polio?

The third case of polio virus has been detected in Balochistan and Pakistan’s gains in the extensive anti-polio campaigns are now in serious jeopardy. With the risk of further spread as the start of the high transmission season, summer has already recorded the virus in 140 samples across 38 districts – there is a very big question mark on what led us here. One of the only two countries where the deadly polio disease still survives, it is a shame that the type I virus is spreading again.

Initially, experts were more cautious about cross-border transmissions but in this latest case, no such evidence exists and it is about time to take the blame. Pakistan has already carried out four vaccination campaigns this year, two being nationwide and this was the essential move after last year’s six cases; none of which was in Balochistan. So for this year, the further downgrade is that the virus has found its way into this suspected vulnerable zone as well.

It is time to seriously rethink the whole strategy, for which the Pakistani team is already in Qatar to seek a policy guide from the independent Technical Advisory Group. More than the technical end, sufficient evidence exists of children missed during the vaccination campaigns. So while medical experts join heads on what needs to be done, the administrative end should take to cleaners whoever is responsible for taking human lives lightly.

The disease is on the verge of eradication but lingers on as the final step never seems to be taken. We came so close to the zero mark in 2021 that it is hard to believe the re-emergence of the virus in environmental samples. The world has managed to end polio, we must too. We have examples of very resource-starved, poor countries managing to end the endemic. Why can’t we? Why does mismanagement and bureaucratic carelessness come in the way of every good that Pakistan deserves? This is perhaps the right moment to reflect.

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