Two more polio cases have been uncovered in Peshawar and Charsadda bringing the total number of cases this year in the country to 29. This is an improvement on the figures last year. But the steady rise of new cases indicates Pakistan still has a very long way to go in its battle against this crippling virus. What is most worrying of all is the number of problems that stand in the way of making Pakistan a polio-free country. Some of these were pointed out by the WHO’s regional chief Dr Ala Alwan during his brief visit to the country. As Dr Alwan has stated, we still have areas where teams cannot enter which is a major concern. These areas seem to be expanding beyond the tribal belts. Health experts have expressed concerns over the law and order situation in Balochistan which is holding back vaccination. There have also been more refusals in all parts of the country, linked to fears that the polio vaccination may cause harm.
The recent shooting incident of a WHO doctor in Gadap Town in Karachi reveals how dangerous the job of polio workers is becoming. The incident led the anti-polio drive in that area being suspended temporarily. All these factors signal that the polio threat will not end so easily. Pakistan has still to find a way of removing itself from the list of the three countries in the world that remain polio-endemic and while it may this year record fewer cases than the 198 reported in 2011, many challenges still lie ahead of us.