PAKISTAN has faced another setback in its ongoing struggle to eradicate polio from the country. A three-year-old boy, a resident of Bannu, has been diagnosed with 2023’s first officially reported poliovirus case. At the moment, it is not clear whether the child had been inoculated or not. A National Emergency Operations Centre for Polio investigation is ongoing in this regard. However, the head of the NEOC has acknowledged that the child was not fully protected; otherwise, he would not have contracted the virus. The geographical location of the reported case would suggest that the child was already at enhanced risk: Bannu is among the seven districts in southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa considered a hotbed of polio. Others include Dera Ismail Khan, Lakki Marwat, Tank, South Waziristan and North Waziristan. The disease has persisted in this area due to public resistance to vaccination campaigns.
The government and other stakeholders have repeatedly tried to dispel the dangerous myths surrounding polio vaccination drops, which continue to be viewed with deep suspicion in some pockets in Pakistan. The level of distrust is such that vaccination teams, including the security personnel guarding them, are often targeted in deadly attacks in a bid to discourage them from doing their work. Operating under constant fear for their lives, it can become a real challenge for them to do what should otherwise be a very simple task. It is, therefore, critical for the fight against polio to succeed so that dangerous misconceptions about the vaccine continue to be comprehensively disproven and forcefully dismissed. With Ramazan and Eid around the corner, many people from affected areas will be migrating to urban areas and could carry the virus with them. Prominent citizens hailing from areas where polio continues to persist should be made responsible for educating their communities and convincing them to change their attitudes to vaccination. The unvaccinated not only create risks for themselves, but also for everyone they come in contact with.
Published in Dawn, March 19th, 2023
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