Failure to control polio virus

February 13, 2020

Polio problems are on the rise again. On Wednesday, three new cases were detected in three provinces while two health workers, both women, were killed in a drive-by shooting by motorcyclists in Razaar tehsil of Swabi. The workers were on work for a three-day immunisation drive in Swabi district. 2019 left the worst trail of polio cases in recent years, while 2020 has also started off on a dismal note. Of the three confirmed cases of the virus made public on Wednesday, two are stated to be from this year and one from last year. With this, the number of polio cases reported in 2019 has reached 140 and that for 2020 to six. Of the new year cases, one is from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and another from Balochistan. It is unfortunate that an 11-month-old boy, of district and tehsil Tank, was reported positive for poliovirus. As per the National Institute of Health (NIH), the child’s lower limbs have been paralysed which means he will have to live a disabled life, all because of the criminal negligence of his parents. In Balochistan’s Nasirabad district, a 20-month male child, resident of Dera Murad Jamali tehsil’s Sikandarabad union council, will also live as a polio-hit patient for his whole life. From 2019, a 26-month-old boy, a resident of Larkana district, Ratodero tehsil, UC Jumo Agham, has been confirmed a polio positive case. Like the previous cases, the fresh cases also belong to poor families. These families are prone to propaganda against polio vaccination on the basis of religious and social influence. The government needs to work on war-footing to fill the immunity gap. This can only be achieved by launching consistent nationwide immunisation campaigns. For this, the government needs to declare polio emergency so that the pace of polio case is broken in next three months. This can positively be achieved if all segments of society stand by the government’s efforts. Anti-Pakistan forces are out to destabilise the state by thwarting polio-related efforts. Such elements often target polio workers. It is a national shame that polio workers have to be accompanied by security guards. The Swabi attack is unfortunate, and the government should provide justice to the families of killed workers.

One of the reasons is the increased resistance towards vaccination drives and violence against polio workers in the province as compared to the rest of the country. Prime Minister Imran Khan, last month, had expressed serious concern over the recent spike in polio cases in the country and directed federal and provincial government officials to undertake effective awareness and immunisation campaigns to eliminate the disease. It has been argued time and again that the fight against polio eradication will need a multi-pronged strategy. Before anything else, the government needs to reassess who’s to be blamed for the resurgence of the Poliovirus. The government conveniently blames parents and Pakistani “culture” whenever and wherever polio case surfaces. But what lies at the heart of this persistent failure is the programme leadership’s failure to undertake a serious analysis of its strategy in this regard.

The fight against polio eradication will need a multi-pronged strategy and all segments of society must stand by the government’s efforts.

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