Anti-polio teams in three different parts of the country came under attack on January 21. In the first incident, two teams were attacked during the campaign in Qayyumabad, Karachi; secondly, a teenage health worker was gunned down while he was administering polio drops in Mansehra; and in the third incident in Balochistan’s Panjgur district, armed men hijacked an official vehicle, snatched mobile phones and polio vaccines from a polio team.
These were, unfortunately, not the first time that the anti-polio teams were attacked. In fact, the incident on January 21 was the eighth such attempt in Karachi alone.
Law enforcers have made some progress in catching the culprits, especially the ones in Karachi, but the progress has not been enough to prevent future attacks. The lack of faith in the police’s competence has forced health workers to openly blame the law enforcers for failing to provide adequate security. The colleagues of the victims of the January 21 attack in Karachi accused the police of not sending in personnel on time for the teams to start their campaign. On the other hand, the police insisted the teams ignored their requests and started working ahead of the schedule. In this blame-game, the men who carried out the attack were able to walk free.
The repercussions of such attacks are not only on crime levels in society but their consequences go much deeper than that. As a result of attacks on anti-polio teams, several parts of the country have not been covered in campaigns in recent years. Many children were deprived of this essential vaccination, due to which Pakistan has seen a significant rise in the number of polio cases.
According to Unicef, at least 91 cases were detected in Pakistan in 2013. Of these, around nine were reported in Sindh, seven in Punjab, 10 in K-P and 65 in Fata. At least four new polio cases have been confirmed within the first two weeks of 2014. Law-enforcement agencies must make efforts to apprehend those responsible so that no further attacks take place and Pakistan can finally eliminate polio.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 23rd, 2014.
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