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Unabated polio killings

Updated Mar 19, 2015 04:11am
Take polio itself out of the domain of child health and repackage it as a national security emergency. —AFP/File
Take polio itself out of the domain of child health and repackage it as a national security emergency. —AFP/File

IT is tragic that while polio workers continue to be cut down in the country, few outraged voices are heard condemning their murder or demanding justice.

On Tuesday, two Lady Health Workers and their guard were shot dead in the Danna area of Mansehra district. And yesterday, one vaccinator died and another was injured in an attack for which responsibility was claimed by the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban in Bajaur Agency.

Take a look: Polio worker killed in attack on team in Bajaur

Will the deaths of these brave individuals serve to shake up state and society and prod the country into finding the wherewithal to push back against the threat? This is unlikely, since the latest victims are far from the first polio vaccinators to have met a brutal end in a hail of bullets.

In such cases, the response from the state, which has hardly gone beyond providing a guard or two to protect the vaccinators, has been demoralising to say the least. The killing of polio workers — and their protectors — is an issue which has now taken its place among the myriad other challenges that have faded into the background to become just another unfortunate reality in this country.

At just about every level — from the administrative and health authorities to the families of the children potentially at risk — there appears to be little realisation that polio, which is easily transmissible, is fast proving to be a national calamity that has alarmed even the international community.

The warnings could not be clearer: rising incidence of the disease, growing violence against the teams administering the vaccination, the fear factor faced by parents who are intimidated into refusal by retrogressive elements.

The presence of the virus is being confirmed at more and more locations across the country, with interior Sindh (Karachi has had a polio problem for a considerable period of time) being the latest to find the alarm being raised.

It is difficult to predict how and when this situation can be reversed. Those against the polio vaccination effort appear focused and implacable in their intentions to deter health workers from vaccinating children.

Perhaps a new strategy is needed to combat the threat. One solution could be to take the disease itself out of the domain of child health and repackage it as a national security emergency — for it is nothing short of that.

But first the state has to show that it recognises the threat and is ready to take action against it.

Published in Dawn March 19th , 2015

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