As India breaks free, can Pakistan follow?

Published: January 14, 2014
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India is poised to be recognised as having successfully eradicated the virus. PHOTO: AFP

India is poised to be recognised as having successfully eradicated the virus. PHOTO: AFP

KARACHI: 

They’ve done it. After three consecutive ‘polio-free’ years, India can now be endorsed by the World Health Organisation as having successfully eradicated the crippling virus from the country.

For a country which accounted for nearly half of all polio cases around the world in 2009, this is indeed a moment to stand tall and celebrate.

To go from 150,000 cases of paralytic polio in 1985 to its last case on January 13, 2011, India required more than vague platitudes. The country employed more than two million vaccinators and made sure their reach was as close as the child next door and as far as distant villages.

Perhaps it would be unfair to draw parallels with the polio crisis in Pakistan but India’s success story must be urgently examined for lessons.

Five more paralytic polio cases were confirmed in Pakistan on January 11, taking the toll to 91. Of these, 65 are from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and 35 from North Waziristan Agency (NWA). A ban against polio drops was issued by warlord Hafiz Gulbahadur in NWA and the Mulla Nazir group of South Waziristan in 2012.

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The sense of urgency should have kicked in a year ago in Pakistan. Perhaps 91 is not a big enough number to jolt the apparatus into action.

18,200. That’s the number of children who could have been infected with polio in 2013. This is calculated according to a global ratio which states: For one paralytic polio case, 200 cases remain asymptomatic but are still carriers, passing on the life-ruining, spine twisting virus to unsuspecting victims.

Looking forward, going nowhere

Talking to the state Minister for Health National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination Saira Afzal Tarrar, it became clear either officials do not think the public has a right to know how the country will get out of this crippling mess. Or their grasp on the range of dynamics at play in different regions, especially Fata’s agencies, is limited.

According to Tarrar, NWA and South Waziristan did not receive any immunisation in months, contrary to former North Waziristan Agency (NWA) agency surgeon Jan Mir Khan’s version – Khan was part of recent polio efforts there.

Even as Tarrar acknowledged agencies needed their own strategy, the minster was unable to be more forthright about how the individual strategies are meant to play out, if only to ensure their efficacy, she maintained.

“Things were getting better but after the drone strike which killed Hakimullah, it all stopped. Not just the peace talks, but also our efforts.”

“I told the prime minister this; we thought when peace talks would happen, we would request the lifting of the polio ban.”

Try, try again

Former NWA agency surgeon Khan, who was recently replaced by Sadiq Dawar, shared the volatility of the agency leaves little wriggle room, yet officials did as much as their resources allowed them.

“In April 2013, we set up polio vaccination camps at check posts and (three) hospitals. They come for routine vaccinations – BCG, measles, diphtheria – and we give them polio drops as well.”

Khan explained he also did several radio spots with Pashto radio channels from Europe and America in which he tried to highlight the risks of polio.

“I tried to scare reluctant parents, telling them how many cases we have. I told them it’s an outbreak. Every child in every area is in danger.”

“People started coming to (hospitals) for vaccines which they took back to their villages.  We must have given enough vaccines for over 100,000 children since September.”

But this still does not mean complete immunity, highlighting the gap in service provision; polio drops have to be administered thrice monthly, explained Khan.

“We tried to motivate people but we cannot keep track of doses.”

The elusive way forward

Khan shared, “There is an aman committee comprising of the government, militants and others which can convince people (to not be scared of polio).”

The former agency surgeon said he met warlord Gul Bahadar. “I took doctors with me and we requested them to at least let people vaccinate their children in hospitals. But they procrastinated over the decision.”

At the end of the day, the decision lies in bigger hands – like the aman committee and the political administration. “If they try (talking about access), it is possible to curb polio,” he noted.

Access, access, access

Saira Tarrar also emphasised part of the solution needs to be the people of the area. “Parents are now sick of the ban; this pressurises the Taliban.”

Going forward into 2014, Tarrar is convinced “100%” that things will improve in terms of the crippling outbreak.

“There is an accessibility problem in Fata, but by 2014, we will get a bargain and get some access.”

And access is key, as far as Elias Durray, the head of Polio Eradication at the World Health Organization in Pakistan is concerned. “Immunisation prevents circulation. The virus won’t vanish on its own.”

Published in The Express Tribune, January 14th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (57)

  • ahmed41
    Jan 14, 2014 - 9:33AM

    If a political will does not exist to battle against Polio, what does it show about society ???

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  • PakLand
    Jan 14, 2014 - 9:35AM

    Pak issues of health are on back burners due to very complicated social, religious and political beliefs of tribal areas. What there is to follow here?

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  • Masood
    Jan 14, 2014 - 10:03AM

    Sir,
    Polio immunization drive is a proxy to carry out anti Pakistan activities.This was evident from the Osama Operations last year. Polio cases are being exaggerated to defame Pakistan, it is a propaganda and also being used as a pretext to take up the so called polio drives. What little cases of polio is there can be cured by prayers. No need for such polio drives.

    Please Publish.
    Thank you

    Recommend

  • belikethesun
    Jan 14, 2014 - 10:12AM

    Yes Pakistan should also do that….and once they are fully grown up use them against India…that’s what you people can do…

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  • rakesh
    Jan 14, 2014 - 10:23AM

    pakistan should ensure that it convinces its citizens in tirbal regions that polio drive is not for any military purpose or anti terror operations, there is nothing wrong in learning lessons from india, afterall polio is a common enemy here and we should be more like allies in this fight against this crippling disease.

    Recommend

  • its ok
    Jan 14, 2014 - 10:28AM

    taking polio drops resulting in more death than not taking polio drop in pakistan. so either you take drop or not, polio will remain a cause of death till it is considered unislamic by many hardliners.

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  • sall90
    Jan 14, 2014 - 10:31AM

    Killing polio vaccination team in pk and making polio free heading in the world. So fishy..

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  • Spock
    Jan 14, 2014 - 10:49AM

    Care for the health of people, determination, planning, execution, dedication, persistence and permission from Taliban is required to do so.

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  • Nopwe
    Jan 14, 2014 - 10:51AM

    @ahmed41:
    Is it mere political will or the religion which forbids it ?

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  • Mehran Khan
    Jan 14, 2014 - 11:09AM

    Congratulations INDIA, Now it is Pakistan’s turn and hopefully it will follow up soon IA.

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  • Fahad
    Jan 14, 2014 - 11:26AM

    Being a Pakistani, I admire and congratulate India on this achievement.
    Pakistan should learn from themRecommend

  • Pakistani
    Jan 14, 2014 - 11:39AM

    @masood….just because of illiterate people like you Pakistan is suffering….just imagine your child being suffered from polio.

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  • GrimmJow
    Jan 14, 2014 - 11:42AM

    Maan – Pakistan wants to follow India in everything..like seriously?

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  • Azhar Bangash
    Jan 14, 2014 - 12:06PM

    65 plus 35 is 100. We have completed a century

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  • maestro
    Jan 14, 2014 - 12:12PM

    @Masood:
    And you are probably a polio victim because your brain is infected! Why are jahil morons like you born?

    Recommend

  • goldconsumer
    Jan 14, 2014 - 1:08PM

    @GrimmJow:
    Yea and India wants to follow the west in everything! So why not just look up in the line?

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  • Ali S
    Jan 14, 2014 - 1:48PM

    This leaves us in the esteemed company of nations like Afghanistan and Nigeria as the only ones where polio is endemic. If nothing is done soon about it, Pakistanis should expect severe visa restrictions on their passports.Recommend

  • TUNG
    Jan 14, 2014 - 2:03PM

    @maestro: calm down he was being ironic! he is just displaying the general level of education of pakistanis

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  • Raj
    Jan 14, 2014 - 2:04PM

    @Pakistani:
    You obviously didn’t get the sarcasm. Did you?

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  • masood
    Jan 14, 2014 - 3:01PM

    @Raj
    I am NOT being sarcastic. i am SERIOUS brother.

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  • Rex Minor
    Jan 14, 2014 - 3:12PM

    @rakesh:
    @Masood:

    For India it is more important to become “Rapefree” which is occurring every twenty minutes( Government statistics) being second in the world after south Africa. For Afghanistan and Pakistan, all hostile droning and military operations must be stopped in the polio suspected areas to allow the distribution of anti polio vaccine by local people. Perhaps the UNO and Bill Gates should call upon the American administration and the Pakistan military to comply with this prerequisite? It is also a propaganda gag and futile for any country to declare itself polio free as long its neighbouring countries are not! From Afghanistan to Pakistan to Syria, Jordan and Israel and right to Nigeria in Africa polio cases have been reported. .

    Rex Minor

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  • lol
    Jan 14, 2014 - 3:56PM

    had we been free of muslims….. trust me…… trust me on this one…..we would have been polio free much earlier…

    not an extremist ….just saying the fact here…..

    bye!!Recommend

  • Rumormonger
    Jan 14, 2014 - 4:09PM

    Pakistan emulates India only in the worst of examples, like going nuclear, massing of weapons, weird soaps on TV, making women believe that they are free, when they wear less clothes and the list goes on. No examples in software development, higher education, research etc.
    @Masood saying that polio vaccination is proxy war and getting highest number of recommendations reflects our warped outlook on critical issues.
    BTW @Masood, Dr Afridi was doing a hepatitis campaign when he got the blood samples of Osama’s children. Polio vaccination does not involve any intrusive methods. With the technology the west has, they would not not need a field campaign to carry out any destructive tasks. THINK!!Recommend

  • Hari Om
    Jan 14, 2014 - 4:26PM

    In order for Pakistan to “break free” and “follow” India in eradicating Polio it is required that Pakistan recognises that the inevitable consequence of Pakistan’s obsession for boxing above its weight class and nurturing an outsize military in order to seek military parity with India comes at the cost of forgoing many other worthwhile things. There is after all truth in the old Guns or Butter adage and Pakistan’s pursuit of being the “Sole Islamic Nuclear Power” will as former Prime Minister Z.A. Bhutto put it entail Pakistan necessarily “Eating Grass”.

    The solution thus is rather straight forward, but will Pakistan make the rational choice and accept it?Recommend

  • PakLand!
    Jan 14, 2014 - 4:46PM

    @lol: lol! Yes! Many non-Muslim people living in wilderness are Polio Free too.
    @Rex Minor: Good one. Spot on!
    @masood: I believe you bro! You are a Jack ASSet too.
    @goldconsumer: I like your theory… Why don’t just follow a Taxi and Save more, lol!
    @Azhar Bangash: What was that?
    @Fahad: Yes, also.. it’s an on & off process. You are Polio Free this year and found a case next year.
    @Nopwe: it’s complicated…religion don’t forbid it.
    @GrimmJow: No, Pak Don’t try to follow India maybe in film & show biz.Recommend

  • NP
    Jan 14, 2014 - 5:05PM

    I hope the extremely ignorant comments here are not indicative of Pakistani society as a whole otherwise this country is condemned to remain one of the most wretched places on Earth. Pakistan is one of the last 3 countries on the planet where polio remains endemic because of the ridiculous religious arguments made by several posters on this forum. I cannot help but believe that Pakistanis are the authors of their own misery after the reading these posts.Recommend

  • observer
    Jan 14, 2014 - 5:21PM

    @NP. “I cannot help but believe that Pakistanis are the authors of their own misery after reading these posts “. Correction :- “Pakistanis are the authors of their own miseries and of many many other countries, and many other people as well”. That would be more accurate. Recommend

  • nrmr44
    Jan 14, 2014 - 6:28PM

    Pakistan needs to mount a massive campaign to educate those who are opposing the anti-polio drive. Drop a million leaflets a day, and bombard them on Radio and TV round the clock. What drives them is disinformation, they have nothing to gain. Not even the most maniacal extremist would want to harm children.
    Every child everywhere is the responsibility of every adult everywhere. Can we see some ideas to educate those who oppose? Maybe ET can collect them and put pressure on the Govt for action. I hate to think that children are getting crippled.

    Recommend

  • mansoor
    Jan 14, 2014 - 7:31PM

    @rumormonger
    “Polio free india” is a false propaganda. Just go to any Indian city and you can see polio is very much prevalent there as can be seen from the number of maimed beggers on their streets. You can also check out the movie slumdog millionaire if you dont believe me. The fact is Polio cannot be cured just as AIDS cannot be cured. So this entire polio campaign reeks of mala fide intentions.

    ET:Pls publish!Recommend

  • goldconsumer
    Jan 14, 2014 - 7:34PM

    @observer:
    @NP:
    Go and read the history of USA for that matter. You will be surprised to see the turmoil that nation went through. 66 years of independence dont count if lessons arent learned. And we are learning, and growing stronger day by day. You just live that long in your incredible india to watch. By the way how many times have you guys ever visited Pakistan? That is to say you get time to see something other than media fed crap and blogging over here??Recommend

  • Arun Rajagopalan
    Jan 14, 2014 - 7:51PM

    Love the comments here, Prosperous Pakistan is rocking!

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  • Raj - USA
    Jan 14, 2014 - 8:09PM

    @Rex Minor:
    All the polio stains found in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Israel are Pakistani origin. Don’t forget that Pakistan’s first export of polio virus was to its dear friend China. Few cases of Pakistani origin polio virus was found in the muslim population of China in January 2012.

    As you say, it is futile for other countries, neighboring or far away ones, to declare themselves as polio free permanently as long as the virus exists in some part of the world. This is the reason other countries will impose appropriate travel ban. Read earlier somewhere that Saudi Arabia has already started to administer polio drops to Pakistanis on arrival. As we know that administering the drops on arrival is not effective and that the drops have to be administered few days or weeks before, they may come up with revised regulations shortly. China may already be administering polio drops for visitors from Pakistan on arrival quietly and silently and both China and Pakistan may be keeping diplomatic silence on this for now. It will come out in the open sooner or later.

    World community will not allow Pakistan to use polio virus as its biological weapon.

    It is good t see you strike a common chord with @masood. Like the enlightened thinking from an educated emigrant in Europe..

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  • Lalit
    Jan 14, 2014 - 8:39PM

    polio is a big problem for Pakistan,but more alarming are the impediments in the path of Polio eradication.they are not crippling like Polio,but life threatening for Pakistan.

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  • Jan 14, 2014 - 8:42PM

    @mansoor: Sir, you are perfectly correct that polio can not be cured( though in your earlier comment it is claimed that it can be cured by prayers ) . That is why it has to be prevented using the vaccination.

    ““Polio free india” is a false propaganda.””- — This belief gives you a little consolation. – enjoy itRecommend

  • unbelievable
    Jan 14, 2014 - 9:20PM

    Pakistan’s polio problem is a bi product of the fact that Islamabad doesn’t really have control over half the country. Solve that and fixing polio can be readily achieved.

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  • mansoor
    Jan 14, 2014 - 9:25PM

    @ Raj
    “China may already be administering polio drops for visitors from Pakistan on arrival quietly and silently and both China and Pakistan may be keeping diplomatic silence”
    Who are you? Chinese Immigration Officer? Your comment is rife with speculations and full of stale propaganda! It is people like you who are brainwashing our youth in the name of being a “liberal”….
    Why on earth do Indians have to read Pakistani newspapers? Indians here are like that stalking husband who goes through his exes Facebook profile everyday in spite of having divorced 65 yrs ago!

    Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Jan 14, 2014 - 9:36PM

    @Raj –

    I fully agree with you sir, though I can not confirm either the special colour that identifies the source, or the Indian rivers which flow into Pakistan or special people who become the carriers becaiuse of their unique genetic cells. I personaly would be happy for a quranteen system being introduced throughout the world, whereby all travellers arriving into a country are kept in isolation at the air or sea ports during the estimated incubation period. Israel is a special case, they have identified the source being the sewage and have since vaccinated it.

    All costs should be borne by Bill Gates the billionaire philanthropist who is pioneering the polio free world.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • lol
    Jan 14, 2014 - 9:36PM

    @mansoor: haha……. now i get what ghost schools actually are…… haha… never ever heard of such thing here……….Recommend

  • mansoor
    Jan 14, 2014 - 9:46PM

    @ Raj
    “China may already be administering polio drops for visitors from Pakistan on arrival quietly and silently and both China and Pakistan may be keeping diplomatic silence”
    Who are you? Chinese Immigration Officer? Your comment is rife with speculations and full of stale propaganda! It is people like you who are brainwashing our youth in the name of being a “liberal”….Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Jan 14, 2014 - 9:50PM

    @nrmr44:

    Pakistan could offer free of charge TV sets to promote Polio vaccis, similar to what India is undertaking to encoursge ther sterilisation program for women.

    Rex Minor

    Recommend

  • gp65
    Jan 14, 2014 - 9:55PM

    @Nopwe: No. Indonesians, Bangladeshis and Indian Muslims have taken this. But yes there was a rumor spread about 12-15 years back that polio drops were a western conspiracy to reduce fertility of Muslims. This set back the polio program in many countries with high proportion of Muslims including India. India had to involve imams in the polio campaign to get around this false apprehension.

    Anyway, I hope that adequate political will is exercised by leaders of Pakistan. Pakistan’s children deserve a polio free future – like children elsewhere.Recommend

  • Np
    Jan 14, 2014 - 9:58PM

    @NP: I have been a regular commenter here. I would appreciate if you do not use the monicker that I have been using for a long while now.

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  • Zif
    Jan 14, 2014 - 9:59PM

    Why to worry about polio? We have better things to do in life like beheading people for not towing our line!

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  • Jan 14, 2014 - 10:04PM

    @Masood: Congratulations Masood. I wish there were many many more Pakistanis like you. you. Payers actually are the best medicine for most of Pakistan’s problems. I don’t know why these stupid politicians don’t understand. Please cancel any travel plans you may be planning fo visit India.

    Recommend

  • Np
    Jan 14, 2014 - 10:07PM

    @Np
    Why? Do you have any copyright on it or what?

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  • genesis
    Jan 14, 2014 - 10:21PM

    @mansoor:
    Do not blame India for the success of polio campaigns.How about small pox.Do you think that has failed and it is all a propaganda!

    Recommend

  • nP
    Jan 14, 2014 - 11:11PM

    @NP:
    @Np:
    Is it Ok for you two if I use “nP” for “No Problem” ha ha ha!
    Just kidding! I am fine with mine.Recommend

  • numbersnumbers
    Jan 15, 2014 - 12:20AM

    @Masood:
    And of course you can show us that ALL of the Pakistani children crippled by Polio over the last decade have been “cured by prayers”!!! NOT!!!

    Recommend

  • numbersnumbers
    Jan 15, 2014 - 12:35AM

    @mansoor:
    And of course you have contacted the World Health Organization about their error, and have provided them with clinical data to show that “Polio is still prevalent in India”!!!

    Recommend

  • Kolsat
    Jan 15, 2014 - 3:57AM

    @Masood: Ask the parents of these polio affected children if this is propaganda to defame Pakistan. Do not write nonsense sitting comfortably in your home. Not every Pakistani health official is a spy. They are genuine people who just want to relieve pain and suffering caused by polio.

    Recommend

  • masood
    Jan 15, 2014 - 5:51AM

    @kolsat @numbersnumbers
    Is that why majority of people here agree with my view (recommendations) ? Lol…

    Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Jan 15, 2014 - 6:14AM

    Raj-USA,

    Look after yourself Sir; most people in the world are used to preventive cares but as we gather more knowledge through clinical research studies, we are very likely to be overwhemed with the demands for preventive actions, that even the people in the richer countries will not be able to afford. You have more than 20 million people in the States who do not receive basic medical treatment. How sure one is that USA is polio free country or the one next door Mexico? We have the ability today to identify the mutation of a gene which will cause illnesss in ten or more years and could be cured today through a preventive vaccine. Who but other than few like Bill gates would be interested in taking the preventive cure for a disease which was to come in ten years! You see medical science is far ahead of the needs of the people; whereas in developing countries even Polio virus has become a political issue.

    Rex Minor

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  • polpot
    Jan 15, 2014 - 8:04AM

    There are so many Polio Vaccinators who have sacrificed their lives
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    It would be befitting tribute to them that every sane Pakistani works with at least 10 children to check that they have been administered polio vaccinations.Make a list of children preferably the poorest in your neighborhood and if u detect even one child who needs to be administered Polio Vaccination you would be making a great contribution…….to the child and to Pakistan.

    Recommend

  • polpot
    Jan 15, 2014 - 8:06AM

    I urge the President ot Pkaistan to lead a campaign against Polio
    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Sir its time to repay the debt to your country. Now.

    Recommend

  • Raj - USA
    Jan 15, 2014 - 10:00AM

    @Rex Minor:
    You need to make a distinction between what preventive measures are available and affordable and what is deliberately avoided. Polio survivors are not only crippled for life but also have a very low life expectancy. Lack of mobility deprives you of proper exercise and physical deformation it affects your health in many other ways. Very few survivors would live past 50 years.

    Recommend

  • numbersnumbers
    Jan 15, 2014 - 10:04AM

    @masood:
    Please provide names of hundreds of Pakistani children afflicted by Polio who have been “cured by prayers” so news organizations can interview them to show the world!

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  • Sridhar
    Jan 16, 2014 - 2:44AM

    @rumormonger
    We are talking about new cases of Polio. When WHO says India is polio free. it means no new cases have occurred in the last 3 years.
    If there are maimed beggars, that could be due to a lot of reasons other than polio. Even if it is polio, that persons probably had it years ago.
    I think you people should read a little before shooting off your mouth.

    Recommend

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