The Polio hazard
Eradicating polio has been primary objective of World Health Organization (WHO) and all the states of the globe. Efforts to eradicate polio started in 1988 when Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) program was launched by international community. Years of efforts and onerous work has brought this egregious disease on the brink however, despite exhausting work, polio still exists in 3 countries of the world. Pakistan is unfortunately one of those where polio has its deep roots and it has also highest number of cases in the world, even more than structurally and economically feeble Afghanistan. In Pakistan, not only some fresh cases have been reported but also 1.83 millions of children remained unvaccinated in nationwide campaigns in the last few months.
Pakistan commenced its attempts to stamp out polio through oral immunizing in 1994 and since then there has been monthly, quarterly and yearly campaigns taking place. All the governments somehow carried these efforts; consequently number of polio cases decreased from 20,000 in 1994 to 58 in 2012 (45 cases are reported in first 5 months of 2014). However, the goal of becoming polio free country is still an ambitious dream.
Gadap (Karachi), Pashin and Qilla Abdullah (Baluchistan), Charsaddah, Mardan, Laki Marwat and Peshawar ( KPK) and FATA are the hubs of polio virus in Pakistan. More frightening are the reports that too many children of these localities missed anti-polio vaccination. Pakistan could have achieved polio free country status so far but there occurred some unprecedented incidents of targeting polio workers across the country. The first attack came up in Karachi and was followed in Peshawar and Rawalpindi. Since July 2012, 22 workers have fall prey to death. Taliban came up with the view that these campaigns are contrary to Islamic ethics and they also nurtured the propaganda that this all is done on the behest of CIA. This description got momentum and people followed it when Dr. Shakeel Afridi (the man who was on a CIA backed false hepatitis B vaccination campaign and was able to get DNA of people living in Osama Bin Laden compound) was detained in 2012. Taliban used FM Radio of North-Waziristan and distributed pamphlets in Pashtun areas of Karachi to increase their propaganda. As a result, WHO reported 70,000 parental refusals to vaccinate their children.
Another reason for spread of polio virus is the free flow of migrants from Afghanistan to Pakistan. Unrest in Afghanistan and tribal belt of Pakistan compelled many for taking shelter in temporary camps where health facilities including vaccination campaigns are not up to the mark.
Polio has also colossal impacts for Pakistan. We see so many polio victims begging alongside the roads and at footpaths becoming hurdle in traffic flow and for pedestrians. Early this year, WHO also warned Pakistan that if the polio virus continues to nurture, it could face severe penalty such as visa and travel limitations.
Now when world has overcome fatal diseases like HIV Aids and Cancer, which were considered incurable in the past, we are still struggling to bridle polio curse. Health Ministry and all the relevant departments should work on war footings to make country polio free as soon as possible. Doubts about foreign spy infiltrating local communities under the guise of the polio vaccination campaign must be undertaken. WHO, UNICEF and Rotary Foundation along with Health Ministry of Pakistan should hire trusted local immunizers so that mistrust may not take place between West and Pakistan and also to achieve the target of ‘polio free country’.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org