From brainwashing to target killing

While extremists might deem the polio health workers as ‘traitors’, I think they are martyrs dying for a noble cause.

Ayesha Jehangir December 20, 2012
On Tuesday, target killing incidents in Karachi and Peshawar halted the anti-polio drive in Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. It didn’t end there, as Wednesday saw another attack on a polio health worker. The victims’ ‘felony’  immunising children against polio. While extremists might deem them as ‘traitors’, I think these health workers are martyrs.

To the great contentment of extremists who have opposed the anti-polio drive for years now, no children will be immunised against polio in Karachi and Peshawar at least during this drive.  These hostile elements were probably encouraged by Dr Shakil Afridi’s confession of involvement in espionage using a hepatitis B vaccination programme as cover.

The incident made it easier for extremist elements to brainwash locals against the anti-polio drive. Parents were told that their children were being given lethal viruses under the pretext of polio drops as part of a clandestine campaign to “wipe out Muslim children from the world.”

However, little did I know that health workers themselves would get affected by extremists’ reasoning. During my recent trip to North Waziristan, I came across one such health worker. The mother of four revealed she was apprehensive about some children being “over-immunised”. While we sat around the fire at her house, the health worker said that some of her colleagues had stopped immunising their own children, while suspecting rumours to be true. She also questioned the increased frequency of the inoculation but said that she could not raise a voice as she had to save her job.

The discussion with the health worker and the recent attacks have left me dazed. So, it was actually happening, I thought to myself. Extremists were targeting parents and volunteers simultaneously. Furthermore, several citizens don’t agree with the rumours spread by extremists. Will they be killed too?

To counter the extremists’ nefarious schemes, the authorities should not take health workers for granted. They must be counselled regularly, since brainwashing is as harmful a threat for them, and the polio drive itself, as target killing is.

Read more by Ayesha here.
Ayesha Jehangir A sub-editor on the Lahore desk of The Express Tribune. She graduated from Kinnaird College with a masters in mass communication and is a Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Fellow of Journalism at DW, Bonn.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

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