Another polio worker killed: Will we ever kick the disease?
Despite some gains, the fight against polio is facing mammoth challenges in the form of refusals by parents to vaccinate their children and the ban imposed by militant groups on polio vaccination campaigns.
Sharafata, a female polio worker was killed in Peshawar yesterday, after she and her team were shot at by two gunmen on a motorcycle. Her team member Sumbal is in a critical condition.
The Afghan Taliban recently announced that they would support polio vaccinations, but warned foreigners not to participate in the campaigns.
The insurgents said they supported all programmes “which work for the healthcare of the helpless people of our country”.
This is a positive development as far as working towards polio eradication in Afghanistan is concerned, which is one of the countries alongside Pakistan and Nigeria where polio is endemic.
The Pakistani Taliban are, however, mum over the conditional offer made by their counterparts in Kabul. Therefore, polio campaigns in their strongholds remain suspended. Polio workers could not reach over 260,000 children living in North and South Waziristan agencies due to the ban on polio vaccinations by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
All the children in this area remain at risk. This number is in addition to 1.7 million children, who have been left unvaccinated due to security concerns and other issues, in areas including Kotli, Naseerabad, Khuzdar, Lasbela, Washuk, FR Peshawar, Khyber Agency, Diamer, Charsadda, Lakki Marwat, as well as certain areas of Karachi.
Religious beliefs, misconceptions, myths and concerns about foreign intervention, in the wake of Dr Shakeel Afridi’s arrest from Abbottabad for allegedly running a fake vaccination campaign, pose the biggest challenges.
The role of social mobilisation network, COMNet, which operates in major high-risk districts of Pakistan and works on the model adopted in several developing countries has been critical. But it needs to expand its operations to all districts as the polio endgame nears.
Since January 2012, when over 58,000 refusals were reported, Pakistan has come a long way in its fight against polio. In October the same year, the number of refusals reported almost halved to over 30,000.
To become completely free of polio by 2015, Pakistan needs to bring its house in order and reach those nearly two million children who have been left unvaccinated.
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