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Imran picks up polio gauntlet

Updated Dec 17, 2013 08:09am


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After entering politics, Pakistan Tehreek-Insaf leader Imran Khan has worked assiduously at building up an image as a politician focusing on political issues. — File photo
After entering politics, Pakistan Tehreek-Insaf leader Imran Khan has worked assiduously at building up an image as a politician focusing on political issues. — File photo

ONCE, he was known as the sportsman who put his weight behind public welfare issues.

After entering politics, though, Pakistan Tehreek-Insaf (PTI) leader Imran Khan has worked assiduously at building up an image as a politician focusing on political issues. Since his party swept to victory in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the May elections, perhaps the single most prominent issue on his agenda has been drone attacks.

But on Friday, Mr Khan vowed to personally spearhead the polio vaccination campaign. His statement came in the wake of the killings of polio workers and guards, and India’s recent decision to disallow travellers from Pakistan from entering the country unless proof of polio immunisation was provided.

Does this statement indicate a zeroing-in of Imran Khan and the PTI’s attention towards an issue that cuts right to the heart of the province’s — and country’s — future?

Asked by Dawn, Mr Khan said: “No one should ever be put at risk of being disabled when it can be avoided by the simple act of feeding polio-prevention drops to the child. If we want to safeguard the health of our future generation and avoid Pakistanis from being prevented from travelling abroad due to the prevalence of polio in Pakistan, we must make sure that all our children receive polio-prevention medication.”

Two strands of challenges must be delineated here. The first is that the strain of the virus found in several parts of the country has been established in most cases to have originated from Fata — which, for several reasons, constitutes a no-go territory for vaccination teams. The spokesperson for Unicef’s Polio Eradication Initiative, Azmat Abbas, says that “nearly 300,000 children have remained inaccessible to polio vaccinators since June 2012, due to the ban imposed on vaccination in North and South Waziristan.”

The second strand, however, is the general misunderstanding of the fact that polio vaccination is crucial — and risk-free. From KP to Karachi, refusals to vaccinate are being reported, and this is where the involvement of prominent persons can make a difference.

As the Federal Secretary of Health Services, Imtiaz Inayat Elahi, points out, “The involvement of high-profile figures, the religious leadership and community elders, etc, is crucial in developing a pro-vaccination narrative. Anti-polio workers face an insecure and demoralising situation.”

The groups with whom Mr Khan’s convictions carry currency include the religious right (given the PTI’s alliance with the Jamaat-i-Islami and the support of other religio-political groupings), many of the younger generation of voters and, most importantly, the KP government itself. These assets could prove the fulcrum that could galvanise the anti-polio effort.

There is the danger that Mr Khan’s involvement may remain restricted to meeting with anti-polio workers or directing health authorities (although these are much-needed interventions). However, he — and others in a similar position — must realise how far more dramatic gains may become possible through active personal involvement. As Mr Abbas points out, “the personal interest of the leader of the ruling party in KP would certainly act as a morale booster and restore confidence of frontline workers.” Mr Khan plans to make a beginning tomorrow near Peshawar by administering polio drops to children, intending to send the message that his government is committed to eradicating polio from the province. We can only hope that this zeal persists. Pakistan’s ‘national interests’ are too often thought to be in jeopardy over the flimsiest of causes, but this is something that poses the risk of isolating the country. The call for putting a polio-related travel ban on Pakistan originally came in 2011, from the global Independent Monitoring Board for Polio Eradication. India is the first country to have declared the intention to restrict travel; others may follow suit.

At the moment, there is perhaps no way in which Mr Khan can serve the national interest better than by using his considerable influence to ensure that Pakistan is able to envision a polio-free future.

The writer is an assistant editor at Dawn

Comments (42) Closed

Karachi Wala Dec 17, 2013 07:42am

All power to Imran Khan on this particular issue.

Amir Dec 17, 2013 07:57am

Imran Khan has failed to make any positive impact in KP so far.

SHAHID LATIF Dec 17, 2013 08:27am

Pakistan is lucky to have person like Imran Khan in the files of politicians. He leads from front and by example. Wish Pakistan has a dozen of leaders of his kind and stature.

Fara Dec 17, 2013 09:03am

Polio can be eradicated only if Drone attacks are stopped. PTI zindabad

amjad wyne Dec 17, 2013 09:05am

If this is what he said then more power to him - I must say Thank you Imran Khan.

n s parameswaran Dec 17, 2013 11:21am

what exactly is the objection of the person's opposing polio vaccination

Immad Dec 17, 2013 11:50am

One one hand he supports TTP who forcefully stop polio campaigns, and on the other he wants to spearhead polio campaign himself. I am confused what he is up to.

Fazza Dec 17, 2013 11:52am

Keep up the good work IK,all the prominent Pakistanis should learn from IK and try to contribute in bits and pieces for the eradication of this virus (Polio).its high time for Pakistanis to wake up from slumber or else their new generations will have tough time travelling internationally for education,tourism,work,business etc.they will be considered as untouchables at every airports and entry points further sullying their image.India's comment is a step towards this new problem Pakistanis may face in coming years travelling abroad.

irum afshan qureshi Dec 17, 2013 11:59am


Habib ur Rahman Dec 17, 2013 12:35pm

A leader's initiative by Mr. Imran Khan! He has now risen to the task commensurate with his stature. Mr. Nawaz Sharif, Maulana Fazalur Rehman and Syyed Munawwar Hasan should not be far behind. Let the leadership be shown on ground.

Akram Dec 17, 2013 02:15pm

at last an issue in which the whole country will support him, anything to get him away from the drone argument.

Fida Ahmed Advocate Dec 17, 2013 03:31pm

Each and every one must stand behind Imran Khan to give him full support in this extremely dangerous threat, irrespective of politics...

ziyad habib Dec 17, 2013 04:41pm

i just hope that imran khan is sincere what he utters . the country has immense potential but our politicians .....though has potential but only being dishonest to the depth of their hearts

Fahad Dec 17, 2013 05:22pm

Great work...Pakistan Khan!

fida sayani Dec 17, 2013 06:05pm

Good work Imran Khan. Hope other politicians and important individuals, specially sportsman should actively participate in this mission, remove POLIO from Pakistan.

Khalid Dec 17, 2013 06:31pm

I don't understand this. What kind of people these are who are killing the very people who are trying to save the lives of children in this province. Why is it so difficult for people to explain to these illiterates that if their children don't get immunised, what can happen to them. How can any human being be so cruel to their own children?.

Dr.M.M. Khan Dec 17, 2013 06:38pm

Imran needs all the support from every nook and corner of the country. I see that PPP is supporting him. To prevent diseases like polio is a human right, I grew up when polio was rampant but was lucky but not two of my cousins who ended with disabling deformities and lost quality of life. Public awareness is the key to stopping and easy to treat disease is the corner stone to protect our future generations. Surely we don't need a fatwa!. Well done Imran. By the way polio is more dangerous than dengue fever. Care to disagree Mr.Shabaz?

Insan Dec 17, 2013 06:53pm

@Fara: you mean to say:

Stop killing our killers otherwise we will commit sucide!

HH Dec 17, 2013 07:29pm

Go Pakistan Khan!!

Ali Dec 17, 2013 07:31pm

Amazing step forward-Thank you IK

Bryan Cooke Dec 17, 2013 08:01pm

Shabash Imran! As one of Pakistan's greatest cricketers and global thinkers, thank you for leading by example to deliver the two life saving drops to the children in Northern Pakistan and helping Rotary International to eradicate Polio forever! If you aren't a Rotarian yet, I'm requesting my classmate Past District Governor, D-3272 Shehzad Ahmed, and my colleague Aziz Memon to invite you to become a Rotarian.

kdspirited Dec 17, 2013 08:12pm

Kudos! while the leaders of our nation are busy taking trips abroad Imran Khan is taking up the fights for our country and its people. Whether we agree or disagree with the drone message at least no one can doubt that this is a fight about our sovreignity. And someone has to fight it. Polio is the cause the affects the future of our country our children. And we needed some one strong to take it up. Thank you Imran once again!

Arslan Dec 17, 2013 08:28pm

@n s parameswaran: As per Taliban, kids getting polio vaccination will turn into a "Kafir" (non-believer) :-)

Roxana R Dec 17, 2013 08:45pm

@n s parameswaran: It is my understanding that the Taliban outlawed vaccinations in the areas over which they have great influence. Secondarily, there is misinformation about the risks of polio vaccines, such as it will sterilize the child. Proper education regarding vaccines needs to accompany mullah support form them, backed by strong and very active political affirmation.

muhammad Dec 17, 2013 08:58pm

This is what we were expecting from Imran Khan keep it up IK good step

Nasser Dec 17, 2013 09:14pm

Fully agree with the article! Go and do it King Khan!

Jawinder Singh Dec 17, 2013 09:19pm

He is a God's gift to Pakistan and an individual with no greed I salute him.

Bong Dec 17, 2013 09:32pm

@ Fara - Your logic is confounding.....!! Drone kills humans, Polio mutilates can either be justified.

Irfan Dec 17, 2013 09:37pm

Hats Off!!! Mr. Khan

pathanoo Dec 17, 2013 10:43pm

For once Imran Khan is doing some thing worthwhile. The only question is whether this is just a political announcement to garner attention or will he do some thing substantial e.g. unequivocally criticize the opponents of anti-polio vaccine and provide police protection to the vaccine workers in KP?

Khan Dec 17, 2013 11:33pm

CIA and DR Afridi put the lifes of millions of our kids at risk. It only shows the friendliness of US towards humanity.

Jonayd Dec 18, 2013 01:29am

@n s parameswaran: If I am not mistaken TTP are against the vaccination because CIA gathered DNA and other data from agents portraying as polio vaccine workers during the Bin Laden hunt. Please don't quote me on this though.

Tamilselvan Dec 18, 2013 01:33am

Thank you Mr. Khan for tackling the bull by the horns and doing your best to eradicate polio. Wish you and your country the best in this effort

Aqil Siddiqi Dec 18, 2013 01:49am

@Akram: I agree, we have to take care of our Future, (which are our children). We should all back him up on this very serious issue.

Aqil Siddiqi Dec 18, 2013 01:55am

@Immad: Imran doesn't support the meat heads Taliban's on every thing. He just like to stop the violence, which has engulf Pakistan all over. I don't know, if we ever grow up and understand, which politician we should chose to lead our country. Time and time again, we have same inupt politicians coming back and playing havoc with our country. We can not blame any one but ourselves for Pakistan to be in these conditions, that we don't know, what the future will be. Aqil Siddiqi (Canada).

Abrar Dec 18, 2013 02:32am

It amazes me that people are disliking comments which are praising Imran Khan - haters gonna hate, keep up the good work Khan

Ratnam Dec 18, 2013 05:39am

Mr. Khan is to be congratulated for taking a principled stand on the issue of polio vaccination. It is surprising that other political parties are not making public statements urging parents to get their children vaccinated. It is in Pakistan's interest, and in the interest of future generations, to eradicate polio. The good news is that it can be done. But it requires political will, and great effort to mobilize workers who can travel to the farthest corners of the country and vaccinate each and every child. Let us hope that every child will be vaccinated.

faran Dec 18, 2013 06:33am

@Immad: Initiating a peace dialogue with terrorists and supporting them are two different things.

faran Dec 18, 2013 06:38am

@Amir:How is it any relevant to the article or polio campaign?

Altaf Hussain Dec 18, 2013 09:46am

@Fara: I'm sure - you are sarcastic.

ali ahmed Dec 18, 2013 11:29am

First time something sensible is coming from IK.

Just Someone Dec 20, 2013 09:25pm

Go for it IK.