Pakistan has long been trying to eradicate polio from within its borders, as the country remains one of two where the virus is endemic. However, despite wide-scale vaccine and awareness campaigns, temporary relief in cases is followed by a strong resurgence. After witnessing just one case last year, 2022 has now seen its 15th wild polio case in a short span of 4 months, with the most recent being contracted by a 17-month-old boy in North Waziristan — which is the epicenter of the outbreak.
A major concern, however, is that the virus may be rampant across the country as samples taken from major cities like Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad have tested positive for the virus. Experts have predicted that the greatest threat of spread will be in Karachi due to its large population, which includes thousands of migrated people from the Waziristan region. The reason for this spread is fairly straightforward: vaccine hesitancy, strong anti-American sentiments (particularly in the districts of K-P), religious superstition and hoaxes, and corruption along with misuse of anti-polio campaigns. Hatred has brewed to such an extent that polio workers have long been targeted and killed as an act of defiance. Officials are well aware of the mechanisms that need to be in place to curb a possible outbreak, and it is only a matter of carrying it out sincerely and effectively. So, perhaps the communication barrier between locals and the international community could be addressed in order to put to rest widespread myths.
A general realisation should be adopted that external help is not for carrying out ulterior motives, but to prevent the virus from spreading to other countries. A single case of wild polio in New York put the entire country in a frenzy. Similarly, in Pakistan, scientific rationality must prevail over fictional discourses.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 30th, 2022.
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