WHO says there is no evidence that attack was against polio eradication efforts;
violence against anti-polio workers raises alarm
Only a day after a polio vaccinator was brutally manhandled by an Islamabad-based Pashtun family that refused the administration of anti-polio drops to their child, two workers of the World Health Organisation (WHO) — a driver and an international consultant supporting the currently ongoing National Immunisation Days (NIDs) against polio — were wounded when their vehicle was shot at by armed men in Karachi’s Gadap Town.
In a statement issued here on Tuesday, WHO has indicated that “there is no evidence, at this time, to suggest that this was a deliberate or targeted attack against polio eradication efforts or WHO.”
Indeed, while it will take time to ascertain the motive behind the cowardly attack, it should take no time for anti-polio partners to devise a strategy to counter the rising wave of violence against anti-polio workers. It would be foolish to turn a blind eye to the fact that these workers and volunteers are increasingly being perceived as working for a health intervention that is linked with the CIA, and of propagating the administration of a vaccine that is un-Islamic. Unless this mindset is nipped in the bud, Pakistan will soon be confronted with a Catch-22 situation where is will be damned if it administers anti-polio drops, and damned if it doesn’t.
The mindset of an anti-polio fanatic opened up like a book when Pakistan reported its 23rd polio case from Quetta last week. The paternal uncle of the polio victim, Mufti Abdul Qayyum, had no regrets about his two-year-old child being crippled for life. It was difficult to convince him that the vaccine being administered to children in Pakistan is of the same quality as has been used in other Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia, which have obtained riddance from polio.
Mufti Abdul Qayyum spoke only one jargon. “This vaccine is ‘haram.’ I would rather have a crippled child than take her forward for administration of a ‘haram’ vaccine. Treating a child with a ‘haram’ medicine would tantamount to being part of a ‘haram’ activity,” he adamantly argued. Similar sentiments were heard Monday during the course of a mosque announcement made by a religious cleric in Attock. Moreover, reports are also pouring in about anti-polio teams being manhandled and shot at in the northern Sindh district of Jacobabad.
The July 16 incident against a polio vaccinator in Islamabad’s Sector G-13 also speaks of growing intolerance against anti-polio workers. In this particular case, the vaccinator, Mohsin Ali, was thrashed, allegedly by members of a Pashtun family. The vaccinator was trying to soften the rigid stance of the family so that they would allow administration of anti-polio drops to their child as part of the ongoing house-to-house immunisation campaign. Little did he realise that an effort made in good earnest would land him at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences.
The WHO statement refers to incidents like these as “highlighting the incredible bravery of the more than 200,000 mainly Pakistani volunteers who run every polio vaccination campaign.” While WHO and its partners acknowledge these vaccinators, social mobilisers and frontline staff as being the real heroes of the anti-polio campaign, they must now also ponder over the need for their safety and security as the situation grows volatile.
The WHO has expressed gratitude to the Pakistan authorities for launching an investigation into the Karachi incident in order to determine the circumstances of the attack more clearly. “The two men working for WHO are in stable condition. WHO, UNICEF and all anti-polio partners remain committed to supporting the government of Pakistan and the people of Pakistan in their efforts to eradicate polio. This incident will not distract from the progress Pakistan is making this year, as the country is closer than ever to polio eradication,” the WHO statement concludes.