As the cool season recedes it is time once again for the poliovirus to become active, and also time for Pakistan to again gird up its loins and do battle with this debilitating disease that stubbornly refuses eradication. Most of the world has vanquished the poliovirus and has done for many years, but it holds out in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Preparations are now far advanced for another comprehensive ant-polio drive in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa concentrating on 17 high-risk areas. The aim is to vaccinate 4.3 million children and together with the indigenous population Afghan refugee camps are also going to be targeted.
The decision to try once again for eradication was taken at a meeting of the K-P Emergency Operations Centre, which has stressed that even one un-vaccinated child presents a threat to others. Yet again the administration is urging parents to cooperate and yet again stringent security measures are being put in place because the brave teams of vaccinators, mostly women, will again likely be the targets of those that see the campaign as a convoluted conspiracy in some way to subvert Islam and/or sterilise Muslim men in an effort to lessen population growth. It is almost a given that some vaccinators will be killed or wounded as well as the police and paramilitaries that guard them.
There are over 16,000 teams with 13,953 of them mobile, 235 roaming teams and 735 ‘transit’ teams that cover buses and other vehicles during the campaign. This is a significant resource deployment and nobody can say that the K-P government is failing to take the issue seriously. Nationally there were eight cases reported in 2017 against 20 in 2016 and 306 in 2014, so the trend is clearly downwards, but until there is a ‘zero’ year followed by another ‘zero’ year eradication cannot be declared. In K-P, there was just a single case last year, against eight in 2016 and 68 in 2014. The goal is almost within the national grasp, and if India can do it then so can Pakistan. Let 2018 be the year that the magic ‘zero’ is first achieved.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 11th, 2018.
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