THE national tally of polio cases so far this year has already crossed 50. The latest victim of the crippling disease is from Sangtoi in South Waziristan district. All four limbs of the three-year-old boy have been paralysed. Such are the circumstances that he was not administered even a single dose of the anti-polio vaccine. Cases like these from various parts of Pakistan are viewed with disbelief by a world which is at a loss to understand the thinking that leads to opposition to immunisation against polio. As yet, however, there are no workable solutions in sight. What has happened in recent times, on the other hand, is that the Covid-19 pandemic has provided the authorities here with another excuse to cover their inefficiency. Pakistan has told the Independent Monitoring Board for polio eradication that the pandemic is the reason for the surge in polio cases here as it has “hampered routine immunisation and campaigns”. The IMB was briefed on various aspects of the anti-polio campaign in the country, a huge task that has engaged the best minds for years. But Pakistan did feel the need to reassure the global monitors that nothing about the national polio immunisation programme would be concealed from them.

Even before the pandemic struck, there were strong signs that 2020 was going to be a bad polio year for Pakistan. The novel coronavirus poses a huge danger and is a test of our resources — in terms of both finances and thinking out of the box. A viable strategy is needed to address other health issues too during the present crisis — such as building tighter networks with the help of our doctors practising at the grassroots. The government has told the public that Covid-19 is a reality that we must all learn to live with. We cannot forever go on blaming our failures and below-par performances on a single emergency. There are other battles in the health sector and these must not be neglected.

Published in Dawn, July 4th, 2020

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