Pakistan says it is ready to face an Ebola outbreak should it occur here. The deadly virus has claimed thousands of lives in Africa. Meanwhile, Pakistan has had more than 160 cases of polio thus far this season and remains one of the three countries alongside Afghanistan and Nigeria that continues to struggle with the epidemic. The entire world has managed to control the disease, while the epidemic seems to be exacerbating here.
The need to devise a new strategy is apparent. It is a positive development that the national manager of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation has recognised this need. However, there is a sense of urgency here as the history of implementing the polio campaign is not favourable; Pakistan began the campaign in 1974 but began eradication in 1993. Today, additional factors have complicated eradication in Pakistan. The first factor is terrorism and the threat to polio workers, who risk their lives for a few hundred rupees to go door to door and immunise children. Then, there is the unwillingness on the part of parents to allow their children to be vaccinated due to mythical beliefs that the vaccine causes impotence. Third, there is the shameful lack of hygiene across the country and the lack of hygiene awareness amongst our population. Poliovirus has been found in our sewages which is relevant because the virus spreads through faecal-oral routes or through contaminated food and water. And now, we are also dealing with decreased morale as officials are fearful to venture into ‘no-go’ areas in cities such as Karachi because of security threats.
Globally, since 1988, there has been a 99 per cent reduction in cases. However, Pakistan might soon offset that statistic. The number of cases of the virus rose by 37 per cent in 2011 even though, according to Amnesty International, Pakistan had vaccinated 83 per cent of children in 1991. It is welcome that there is aid coming from international organisations, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to help mitigate polio in Pakistan. However, these resources must be used with utmost strategic planning, for which outside help should be sought as we have suffered the disease for too long.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 22nd, 2014.