Pakistan is fighting a very deadly battle all over the country. No village, hamlet, town or city has been spared of its wrath. But this is not a war that involves tanks, guns or grenades. In fact, the only weapons in the fight against the deadly battle are an amber liquid and some droppers. The enemy is polio — a disease which Pakistan has been attempting to gain control over with inadequate success.
Despite the fact that a national emergency on polio was declared last year, we have struggled to limit its occurrences with 198 cases recorded in 2011, which is the highest anywhere in the world. As a result, Pakistan has been declared the world’s focal point for the spread of polio, with experts from the World Health Organisation converging to discuss what they consider a highly dangerous situation. Adding to Pakistan’s embarrassment is the fact that this year, India was taken off the world’s list of polio-endemic countries after it competed 12 months without a new case being recorded. Today, only Afghanistan and Nigeria stand on that list alongside Pakistan.
Can Pakistan gain an upper hand in the battle against polio once more? Till the early 2000s we appeared to have been making progress. Even so, it is still encouraging that this year, only 15 cases have been recorded in contrast to 28 by the same time last year. But, of course, it is too early to say if we are indeed moving towards success. In the last year, polio re-emerged for the first time in districts of Balochistan that had remained polio-free for years. The latest anti-polio drive has been backed by a strong media campaign. This is wise, but we also need to take other steps suggested by experts, including better-run campaigns, an effort to reach every child, persuading people to vaccinate, dealing with migrations that result in children failing to receive the drops and combining the drive against polio with more generalised healthcare for children, which incorporates other vaccinations that they should be receiving. Pakistan needs to win this battle. The consequences of losing it are terrible.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 25th, 2012.
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