Among the many battles Pakistan continues to fight, its struggle with eradicating polio is becoming insurmountable. Although campaigns are reportedly effective in mitigating the prevalence of the disease, Pakistan remains one of the only three countries that still harbours the virus. The discovery that the poliovirus has been thriving in samples collected from the Kohat region in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) is unnerving. Many more people could have been affected as the drainage system from which the samples were collected was situated near camps for Afghan refugees. This could have been especially unfortunate because refugees lack access to proper facilities and remain unwelcome in many places. There would also have been a strain on the country’s health resources, so indeed that was a dodged bullet. A concerted effort is required to eliminate poliovirus entirely and this means two areas need utmost focus: one, bringing awareness to people and two, keeping terrorists away from polio health teams.
On the first note, which is to bring awareness to people, public messages should counsel people on opting for their children to get vaccinated as well as impart knowledge on how the poliovirus spreads. The highly contagious disease is contracted through contact with infected faeces. A general lack of hygiene and zero consequences for substandard hygiene practices in public places such as restaurants provide a flourishing environment for the virus to spread. Secondly, health departments must increase their efforts and provoke the authorities to provide better security. On January 18th, a polio team in Quetta was fired upon and two female health workers lost their lives. Although we can provide foolproof security to politicians who do no work around here, it somehow becomes insignificant to protect workers who actually render services to fellow citizens and do humanitarian work. We fully support the upcoming polio campaigns in K-P and urge that the drives are completed at an accelerated pace.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 11th, 2018.