Efforts to eradicate polio from Pakistan have been dealt yet another blow at a time when fresh cases from all over the country are creating fear. All the campaigns conducted over the years have depended on mostly female vaccinators and Lady Health Workers (LHW’s) to administer the drops. They are poorly paid for what has become dangerous work and dozens have been killed by those that oppose the vaccination drives. It is now reported that LHW’s who were due to carry out the latest drive are boycotting the campaign on the reasonable grounds that they have not been paid for the past three months. Furthermore, about 300,000 children in North and South Waziristan and parts of the Khyber Agency are going to miss their drops because of the poor security situation. The boycott means that the 2.8 million children who were the target group may miss being vaccinated, but the LHW’s are adamant they will not begin work unless they are paid.
There are 16,300 vaccinators, most of them from poor families. They are dependent on their meagre salaries to feed their families; and they rightly point out that they can hardly be expected to care for the children of others when they cannot feed their own. Considering that the number of cases of polio reported this year in Pakistan far exceeds that of last year and 85 of the 117 reported cases were from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, it is grossly incompetent of the administration to delay the pay of the very people who are in the front line of the battle for its eradication. If you do not pay your troops in the end they will mutiny, and that is precisely what the LHW’s have done. Eradicating polio appears ever further from the national grasp, and it is occurrences such as this which are entirely the making of the local and provincial administrations, that are going to prolong the persistence of this crippling and preventable disease in Pakistan. It is an abdication of collective civic responsibility to the detriment of the children of the nation, to say nothing of its effect on our international standing. Pay the LHW’s what they are owed and get the anti-polio campaign back on track.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 27th, 2014.