IN the first incident of its kind this year, a policeman guarding polio vaccinators was gunned down in KP’s Karak district. Earlier last month, a similar killing took place in Bannu district when gunmen attacked an assistant sub-inspector who was returning to the police station after providing security to polio workers. At times, it seems that the battle against extremist mindsets is harder than the battle against poliovirus. No one would feel this more acutely than the thousands of polio workers — and those protecting them. Yet, they courageously keep coming back to this long-drawn fight when they are called, putting themselves in danger each time. At present, polio teams in the country are engaged in a five-day national immunisation drive. With the raging Covid-19 pandemic, however, their job has become even more difficult. Polio immunisation was halted for more than four months in the first half of 2020 as a precautionary step against the spread of Covid-19 — meaning that many children could not be inoculated against polio. This situation was aggravated because of the aggressive resurgence of the polio virus since 2019. Meanwhile, the attacks on polio teams in KP show there is still much resistance to polio vaccination thanks to fallacious theories. The result is that thousands of children are not vaccinated against the crippling disease. Suspicious mindsets are perhaps the biggest impediment to polio eradication in the country.
Though successive governments have promised to end the curse of polio, their efforts are more for show as structural and consistent steps towards this goal are not taken. Earlier, the prime minister had stated that it was a “shame” that Pakistan was one of two countries where polio was still endemic. If the government is sincere about overcoming the challenge, it should immediately start working towards rooting out the sources of misinformation regarding the vaccine and persuade our elected representatives to personally engage in raising awareness and addressing the concerns of those resisting immunisation for their children.
Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2021