A new anti-polio vaccination campaign is currently underway as the number of cases surged to more than 100 this year. Then devastating news was received that two policemen guarding polio workers were shot dead in Lower Dir area reaffirming fears about the campaign.
Polio workers risk their lives going door-to-door to administer polio vaccines and people, particularly in conservative regions, are not receptive to welcoming them. It is often seen that many residents mark their children’s fingerprints before the campaign to avoid receiving vaccines.
The long-standing conspiracies and misinformation about anti-polio drops are still intact. The government needs to take robust measures to bust these myths. Moderate religious scholars should be taken on board to give a clear message that polio vaccines are safe and are not a threat to children. People should be reassured before a polio team shows up at their doorstep.
The entire polio campaign is in shambles with no competent leadership. The government was in a deep slumber on the issue and suddenly woken up to give statements that every possible step is being taken to eradicate polio. Their incompetence is evident given the recent incident in which expired polio vaccines were administered in a village near Rawalpindi.
Pakistan has been fighting polio since 1994 and over 206,000 people have taken part in this campaign. Yet we have had 104 cases reported this year which speaks volumes over the dismal state of affairs. The effect of this negligence will be further reaching than anticipated; only once we have the dubious distinction as the last nation battling polio will we realize the global embarrassment.
The Islamic Development Bank has agreed to provide $10 million for the polio eradication. This funding comes from the Lives and Livelihood Fund, a partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Pakistan has relied on these funds to combat polio and vaccinate children. This is a welcome development but the funds must be utilised effectively for this purpose.
Pakistan has assured international donors of their renewed efforts in eradicating the polio virus amid serious concerns of resurgence in the country. Mere talk is inadequate. Combating polio will require result-oriented efforts against the crippling disease which has been widely eradicated. The prime minister needs to revamp the entire polio eradication programme as children should not be paying the heavy price for our apathy.