Today Pakistan is faced with many challenges. One of these challenges is the un-inhibited spread of Polio in the country.
By the end of May 2014, the number of cases of Polio in Pakistan reached approximately 60. Due to this the World Health Organization (WHO) slapped a six month international travel restriction on Pakistanis so as to prevent a possible worldwide spread of the polio.
In these circumstances the government was left with no other choice but to ensure that everyone residing in Pakistan and people who were visiting for lengthy periods received a dose of the polio vaccine prior to travelling abroad.
In the past few years however, our governments have failed to keep the spread of the polio in check. This, coupled with the issues that the polio campaign faces in the tribal areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhuwa and FATA have led us to this point.
Reported cases of Polio in Pakistan till may 2014:
- North Waziristan 44
- South Waziristan 5
- Frontier Region Bannu 2
- Khyber 2
- Peshawar 5
- Bannu 4
- Karachi 5
Source: Government of Pakistan
Failure to Eliminate Polio Happened at Various Levels
One of the major reasons that Pakistan has failed to eradicate the polio virus is because misconceptions about the vaccine have been allowed to freely circulate. Baseless rumors such as: polio vaccine can decrease women’s fertility, polio vaccination weakens children and that it makes men impotent are common. Although it is a very difficult task, the government has done very little to dispel these rumors.
Another issue that was recently brought to light was the negligence and failure of personnel responsible for providing the vaccine. In quite a few remote areas it was discovered that the personnel were using expired vaccines. On top of this due to regular black outs, keeping the vaccine refrigerated was also a difficult task.
Part of the blame for this epidemic also lies with the international community as they only focused on the polio vaccination instead of the required nine vaccinations that a new born needs. The polio vaccine is sometimes not as effective if administered alone and without other vaccines.
In addition to this, Shakil Afridi and his fake Polio campaign to help the CIA kill Osama Bin Laden has strengthened the belief of the locals that polio campaigns are a cover up for covert operations.
Another major hurdle in dispensing the vaccine is that we have not been able to protect anti-polio workers. Several have been killed by people opposing the vaccine not just in remote tribal areas but in Karachi, our largest city.
What is the Solution?
According to a senior WHO official, polio cases are mainly concentrated in Peshawar, FATA and Karachi. The rest of the country is for now, free of the virus. The need of the hour thus is to revamp the polio vaccination drive and focus on areas experiencing high incidences. Revamping includes providing better security services to the workers and developing a better plan to increase reach of the vaccine.
In addition to this, the IDPs from the Waziristan operation pose a major risk as well as an opportunity for this initiative. Although the army was asked earlier this year to help and enforce vaccination to anyone leaving the tribal areas, the government should now make sure that everyone coming out of the area and all those in the camp should be vaccinated at all costs.
This is the need of the hour as the situation has become a danger to many and also an embarrassment for Pakistanis all over the world.