close
Advertisement
Can't connect right now! retry

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!
 
February 3, 2020

Polio peril

Editorial

 
February 3, 2020

In Pakistan, polio is not only a disease that has crippled millions of people over the decades and claimed lives, but also a problem that has led to the death of at least 160 polio workers or their guards since 2012. The targeting of polio workers originates in the myth that the vaccines are a Western propaganda intended to sterilize Muslims; the suspicion also links back to a 2011 hepatitis campaign in which a false vaccine drive was run to gather information on Osama bin Laden and possibly collect DNA from him. Now two more polio workers have fallen to this curse. In the Swabi district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa near Parmoli village, the women were shot dead, reportedly by unknown men on motorcycles as they returned home from the day’s work. A new polio drive is being run in KP, from where the largest number of cases was reported in 2019 and the ongoing campaign cut short after fake videos alarmed people into refusing to have children vaccinated. In this latest case of violence, one of the women died instantly, while the other passed away at the Lady Reading Hospital where she was taken.

The two young women become new martyrs in the crusade against polio. Like others before them, they died in the line of duty and in an effort to save the country’s children from a terrible disease. The incident occurred in a relatively remote part of Swabi, where the local administration members say there are many unguarded roads and corridors. However, this is also a high-security area and police say it had been cordoned off. If this was indeed the case, it is difficult to understand how the killers were able to escape. There have been contradictory accounts from police, local administration officials and others. Some say the polio team was accompanied by police guards, others say there were none as they had been sent out with other teams and there are also reports that the policemen were present but failed to shoot back at the killers. All this is disturbing. The death of the women is in itself a tragedy.

Pakistan had stood at the brink of eradicating polio till 2018 when 12 cases were reported during the year. For 2019, about 140 cases were reported and in 2020, at least six cases have been noted already, four in Sindh and one each in KP and Balochistan. There is also concern about the cases in 2019 which arose from the vaccine itself. This number has now been recorded at 22 by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, which monitors polio worldwide. Pakistan and its neighbour Afghanistan are the only two countries in the world which have failed to eradicate polio. The attacks on workers contribute to the problem by creating alarm with communities and drawing attention to the efforts of extremist groups who oppose polio vaccination. Last year, a National Strategic Advisory Group had been set up to monitor and overcome the problem. The focal person for polio at the time, Babar bin Atta had been dismissed amidst claims that he was responsible for mismanagement. But the new strategy headed by the Prime Minister’s advisor Dr. Zulfiqar Mirza does not seem to be proceeding along better lines either. The problem is an immense one and as workers are killed, more children face the peril of polio and a life of permanent paralysis.