ASSISTANT Sub Inspector Akhir Zaman was killed in an ambush in Jhandokhel, Bannu district, on Wednesday. It didn’t take his colleagues too long to connect his murder to his last assignment even though later on other motives also came under discussion. The policeman was returning after a day’s security duty with polio workers. For a number of years now, the work of polio teams has been among the most hazardous in the country. The frequency of attacks on polio workers and those guarding them has been very alarming. The protection that brave security personnel provide can prove to be inadequate for the equally courageous team, and sometimes the protectors themselves are targeted. This threat that polio workers and security personnel have to encounter is often coupled with the aggressive resistance put up by parents who are unwilling to have their children immunised against the crippling disease. And just when it seems that the polio programme might be making some headway, there is an incident somewhere that reinforces concerns and leaves workers demoralised. All this has culminated in a situation in which Pakistan is one of the two countries in the world that haven’t eliminated polio. This is shameful to say the least.

It seems that polio teams and their security have been left to fight the scourge on their own for too long. There has been a lot of rhetoric, and several pledges have been made over the years, and yet back-up strategies are absent. There have been elected governments in the federating units, but one wonders if all methods to convince families of the need for administering polio drops have been fully explored. Surely the authorities in charge of these drives can do better and find ways of engaging with the people and raising awareness to allay suspicions and debunk the theories of extremists who view the drops as a Western conspiracy. Indeed, the job of our elected public representatives, with constituencies of their own, is cut out for them. What are they waiting for?

Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2020

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