A three-day anti-polio drive in North Waziristan was called off because of the continued threat posed by militants who remain active in the area. The fact that tracts of the territory are under curfew also makes it difficult for teams to reach children.
Tribesmen in the area meanwhile complain that in the past as well, health workers have rarely ventured beyond the headquarters of the agency at Miranshah to vaccinate children. Whereas one cannot entirely blame the teams for this, given the volatile situation in the area and past attacks on vaccinators, the fact is that thousands of children remain at peril.
This is all the more true given the proximity of North Waziristan to Afghanistan — another of the only four countries in the world where the disease remains endemic. In the past, there have been findings that strains of the virus found in Afghanistan had been transmitted across the border. The situation needs to be remedied. In past months new cases of polio have been reported from Swat and other areas in the conflict-zone. Disrupted vaccine campaigns have been cited as a factor.
It is important that authorities work towards creating a situation that enables health teams to reach children at risk. Given that, practically speaking, this may not be possible on an immediate basis in areas like Waziristan and other strategies need to be thought out. Perhaps it is possible to train people to administer the vaccine in some villages and deliver polio drops to them to carry out the task.
It may alternatively be possible to set up centres in ‘safe’ areas and arrange for people to travel to them. There are no ideal answers. But it is vital to cover as many children as possible and thus save them from the perils polio brings.