Friday August 19, 2022

A dangerous job

By Editorial Board
July 04, 2022

Since 2012, 70 polio workers have been killed in Pakistan – mostly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – while attempting to inoculate children against the polio virus. There has now been another attack in North Waziristan, an area where previous attacks have also been noted, as with neighbouring South Waziristan. The latest attack targeted three people, one polio worker and two policemen. A bystander too was injured in the attack carried out by unknown persons on motorcycles. The pattern is strikingly similar to such attacks carried out in the past. It also hampers the attempt to vaccinate 12.6 million children in the region in the latest drive against polio. Pakistan, which had come close to eradicating polio with only one case reported last year, has once again fallen back into a familiar pattern, with an alarmingly increasing number of polio cases. At least 11 have been reported in the first six months of this year, most of them in the north of the country – with South Waziristan heading the list of locations where polio has occurred, most often among young children.

Pakistan's battle against the polio virus continues. International agencies and groups have poured funds into Pakistan's efforts to finally eradicate polio and join the list of countries where the disease is a thing of the past. Only two countries in the world, Pakistan and Afghanistan, are still struggling to contain this virus. Being a polio vaccinator is one of the most dangerous jobs in Pakistan. Dozens of polio workers have been killed in targeted attacks. At the same time, when workers are surrounded by security personnel it can be difficult to win the trust of the parents whose children you need to vaccinate. Added to the challenges is the fact that polio workers are often not paid enough for the work they do – placing themselves in immediate danger. Most local officials and police state that extremist groups are most likely responsible for these attacks, with propaganda from clerics and such groups in the past still strong enough to dissuade people from vaccinating their children. There is an obvious need to work to defeat such false rumours and convince people that vaccination is essential to avoid a disease which can cripple and kill.

The effort to educate people about the disease and the ability of a simple vaccine delivered as amber drops in a vial must be stepped up. At the same time, while security in every alley, and every doorway across North and South Waziristan as well as other areas of the country is impossible, something needs to be done to safeguard polio workers and their security as they undertake the noble cause of vaccinating our children. Pakistan has many a time stood right at the precipice of defeating polio once and for all. And yet that one final push has eluded state and government. This year's rising polio cases highlight the need for a different strategy to reach those who are left behind – those who will be most difficult to find and persuade. When just about every country in the world has managed to put an end to the polio virus from their lands, Pakistan has little excuse for the continuing polio cases in the country.