In an unfortunate development, attempts to curb polio continue to be endangered in the country with the paramedical and teachers association in Swabi now refusing to take part in anti-polio drives in the district till they are given adequate security. Their demand is not unreasonable, coming two days after two fieldworkers were shot dead by militants during a vaccination campaign in the district.
According to reports in this newspaper, the police escorts accompanying the workers fled the scene when the militants opened fire on the workers — a schoolteacher and a paramedic — and, according to eyewitnesses, returned once the firing had ended and villagers had surrounded the injured. The shameful fact, according to the World Health Organisation, that Pakistan is one of the only three countries that remain polio-endemic has been reiterated time and again, and cannot be stressed enough. Unfounded propaganda has obviously spiralled out of control, with extremists giving fatwas against vaccinations and indoctrinating local populations against them. As a result, around 67 polio cases have been reported in the country over the past 17 months and thousands of others have not been vaccinated. Polio vaccinators working for NGOs understandably stay away from areas that pose a high threat to them. Last year, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan outright banned polio vaccinations in North Waziristan.
Meanwhile, in Swabi, following the latest attack on polio workers, the DPO of the area has allowed all polio workers to carry weapons. Given the threat they face, this may seem to be a plausible option but it must be noted that polio workers cannot be expected to handle weapons and, therefore, this is not a long-term or responsible solution to the problem. Providing workers with bulletproof vests and improved security would, perhaps, be a better idea. Eradicating militancy, of course, would be the decisive win in this war against polio. The new government must tackle this issue as a priority for the sake of our future generations.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 21st, 2013.