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January 14, 2021

Attack on polio team

Editorial

 
January 14, 2021

The problem of attacks on polio teams continues in Pakistan. On Tuesday in the Karak district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a policeman escorting a polio vaccination team moving through the district to offer drops to children, was killed by unknown persons who drove past the team on a motorcycle. Following the murder of police officer Junaidullah, the campaign in the Karak area has been stopped at least for one day, as authorities review the security situation and try to find a way to keep polio workers safe. This is not an easy task, given Pakistan's long history of attacks on polio teams. Since 2012, as many as 70 polio workers have been killed, most of them in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. These include lady health workers who have left their homes to take part in campaigns and deliver the polio vaccine to children.

Pakistan is one of only two countries in the world which is still endemic for polio. The authorities had pledged to try and eradicate the disease this year by bringing the rate down to single digits or even lower. This seems increasingly difficult. The attacks on polio workers show the hostility with which people regard polio teams and the shootings suggest that they are out to do their utmost in order to stop the drops from being offered to children. In the past, the Taliban have carried out such attacks, although this time there has been no claim for the murder of the police officer.

In addition to the killing of the security personnel accompanying polio teams, there have also been refusals by parents to allow their children to be vaccinated sometimes in the wake of fake news. This year, the first campaign of 2021 had begun on January 11. The murder in Karak shows the challenges the polio teams face. The Karak area recorded 15 of the 22 cases noted in KP during 2020, a year that proved to be better in terms of controlling polio compared to 2019 when 147 cases were recorded. There will need to be a rethink on how to safely deliver the drops to children across the country. The national campaign launched this month intended to target 40 million children across the country. It is unclear if this target can be met, given the sense of insecurity and threat posed to polio teams. Security personnel have been targeted before and each attack makes it more difficult to safeguard the future of thousands of Pakistani children who need the vaccine in order to save them from the polio virus which has crippled thousands in the country over the years.