So how many more cases of polio will it take before we realise that we need to do more to combat a disease, which continues to rampage through our country. Still more ironic is the fact that in many ways we know perfectly well why this is so — but still seem unable to do too much about it. The latest case has emerged in the conflict-torn Bara Tehsil of Khyber Agency, where a one-year-old girl has been found afflicted by the virus and left paralysed. The ongoing military operation in the area has left vaccination teams unable to visit for months, leading to the area being labelled a ‘high-risk’ zone.
The case reported from Khyber Agency brings the number of cases recorded this year to 15. Last year, 198 polio cases were reported in the country — the highest in the world. The figures gave rise to immediate panic and international warnings that Pakistan could be declared a polio disaster area, with the possibility of restricted travel to the country. Obviously the situation is bleak. Special assistant to the Prime Minister Shahnaz Wazir Ali has said as much at a meeting conducted on May 7 to assess the situation, emphasising that more needed to be done to make vaccination available to all.
This, of course, is correct. There can be no doubt at all that we need to plug the leaks and flaws in the system, which keeps us among the only three polio endemic countries in the world. But, perhaps, amidst all the pessimism, we need also to look at the brighter side of a cloudy sky.
The fact is that last year, 33 cases had been reported during the same period — nearly double the number for 2012. Of course, cases have a habit of mounting as the year closes and tallies are combined. Nevertheless, the lower figure into May is in some ways encouraging, and suggests that the stepped up effort being made may be having some impact. We must hope that this is true and that the problems still being faced, notably due to security reasons, will be tackled before the year ends.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 9th, 2012.
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