Despite the WHO mandated polio drops at airports and the declaration of a polio emergency in the country, the number of cases continue to rise steadily and ominously. Those reported this year have in the first seven months of 2014 already crossed the number recorded for the whole of 2013. With two new polio cases confirmed, one in the Khyber Agency and one in Peshawar, we now have 94 victims of the disease. In 2013, the total had been recorded at 93.
The signs are obviously not good. One of the latest cases comes from the Khyber Agency and involves an infant girl who had received no dose of the vaccine. It is unclear if the other child from Peshawar had been vaccinated at all. But whatever the details are, the fact is that this is a war we are losing. We are losing it partially because of that other war we are fighting against militants, who have used polio as one of their means of scoring against the state. The ban on vaccination campaigns and the attacks on health workers delivering drops has clearly had an impact. Seventy of the cases confirmed this year have been reported from regions of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), with North Waziristan where vaccination has not been allowed, reporting the largest number of cases. In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa as well, the number is high.
Clearly, still more urgent measures need to be taken before the debacle worsens. This is not only to prevent the ban from travel out of Pakistan which has been threatened by international agencies but also simply to keep our own children safe from a crippling disease. We have failed miserably in this task despite countless warnings from multiple sources. As a result, fingers are pointed at us again and again as a nation that has failed to curb the polio menace. Currently, we lag even behind Afghanistan, along with Nigeria, that are among the only three nations in the world where the disease is still endemic. The authorities need to join heads and come up with a plan. Whatever plans have been made so far have quite obviously not worked. We need better ones if we are to get anywhere at all.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 21st, 2014.
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