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October 26, 2020

The polio battle

Editorial

 
October 26, 2020

As World Polio Day was marked on Friday, Pakistan continues to struggle to eradicate the disease. Today, it is one of only two countries, the other being Afghanistan, which is still endemic for the illness, which can cause crippling ailments, especially among small children, and can in some cases prove fatal. It is sad that, while every other country in the world including those poorer than Pakistan, has successfully dealt with the disease and driven it away from their borders, Pakistan still struggles to do so. In fact, last year, at the end of 2019, it recorded 147 cases, a new record for several years, given that the case flow had fallen dramatically in years before that to double digits. There are therefore many problems that clearly need to be combated.

Something has gone seriously wrong, we need to understand what it is. Already this year 70 cases have been reported from across the country, suggesting that again by the time the year ends the overall figure will be high. Covid-19 and the actions against it can partly be held responsible, taking interest away from other matters. But this is only partially true. The fact is that we have struggled against polio for years – and the struggle continues. The actions against polio teams have scared away people, as has the propaganda broadcast over social media and spread through mainstream media in various forms. It is essential that this be successfully combated by doing much more to create awareness about the need to vaccinate children under five against polio, so that they can be saved for life. All around us, if we look carefully, we see individuals struggling along on braces or specially-built shoes or artificial limbs as well as other more primitive devices in order to ensure mobility. They are all victims of polio. For decades, the disease has claimed victim after victim. Our inability to control it is also linked to poor administration and perhaps a lack of full focus by the government teams responsible. It has been admitted in previous reports that administrative issues and the manner in which the process of administration is carried out means that children are frequently missed. This is obviously unacceptable.

When a child is missed it means that another child in the country becomes vulnerable to the disease and can also spread it to others. The refusals by parents are part of a more widespread suspicion of vaccination and its effects. For many years, there have been conspiracy theories suggesting that vaccines are an effort by the West to limit childbirth amongst Muslims and thereby hamper them and their countries. This is obviously untrue. The truth needs to be told to the people and made more widespread, while administrative methods need to be sharpened so that each and every child in the country can receive polio drops in the next drive which is due to begin later this year.