ISLAMABAD, Aug 10: Reemergence of polio cases, militants’ threat to sabotage campaigns in the tribal areas, killing of a doctor associated with the anti-polio drive in Karachi and the arrival of WHO representative to Pakistan on an emergency visit point to one notion – it’s not smooth sailing in the fight for polio eradication.
However at a polio awareness seminar held at Jinnah Institute on Friday, Dr Elias Durry of World Health Organisation (WHO) was of the view that “it is on the verge of being eradicated”.
At the roundtable glancing at the participants one could see how the polio campaign has now been inoculated into the very veins of Pakistani mainstream culture or to put in another way ‘all things Pakistani’.
Starting from the house on the hill was prime minister’s special adviser Shahnaz Wazir Ali, who chaired the meeting with an eclectic mix of members from the media, civil society and members of the polio eradication team.
But then in conversation and comments the presence of the absentees was also felt. The star absentee being Shahid Afridi, Pakistan’s cricketing icon, who has stood on the pitch against polio and is all set, with bat-in-hand to boom-boom polio out of the ballpark, once and for all.
Then there was the mention of certain undesirables: the militants, who have taken up arms against the campaign.
But militants only add strength to the anti-polio narrative. A good story needs an antagonist just like a protagonist because everyone likes a good fight and in the end the good guy always wins.
Call it providence or mere luck, Pakistan and the polio-eradication programme are on the same side.
This was highlighted by a very interesting document shared with Dawn in which fatwas of Ulema belonging to various Muslim denominations was printed. Majority of religious scholars in Pakistan support the polio eradication programme.
And the recently conducted polio campaign only shows that the threat to the eradication programme is not existential but existentialist. It can only be a ‘medieval’ mentality that looks at polio-eradication negatively. And one of the participants of the seminar informed that the ‘myths’ surrounding polio have nothing to do with Pakistan or Islam.
In fact some of the popular polio myths come from non-Muslim countries.
But myth and medieval are words powerful enough to transport one back to memories of Camelot and King Arthur’s Knight Templars of the roundtable.
Sitting at Jinnah Institute’s roundtable, director of the institute, Raza Rumi asked a very pertinent question: “How much damage negative media campaigns – especially electronic – could have caused?”
To which one of the participants, who from his dialect one could conjecture might have actually come from the land where the legend of King Arthur originated, said that “Media monitoring shows that 80 per cent has been positive, while only 20 per cent negative.” This means that on the whole media has been part of the solution not the problem.
So when another participant added: “Failure is no longer an option,” it hit the right chord with everyone seated on the table.
So as these lines go into print, the eradication programme marches on, moving ever so closer to the gates of victory. In this arduous march, the polio team has gained much but not without its share of martyrs as the killing of a WHO worker in the last campaign highlights. But no victory in history has been achieved without sacrifices.
And as one steps out of Jinnah Institute and drives back, suddenly the markings of this proverbial polio beast become all too visible.
One notices that on each house in Islamabad, there is a mark, which was left by a polio team that last visited our doorstep. Even if one doesn’t notice but the mark signifies that something had happened here. An event that could be looked upon as ‘merely nothing’ or something more epical in nature.—Shahnawaz Khar