With international attention honing into Pakistan’s polio problem, with over 60 polio workers and police officers protecting polio teams killed in the last three years, and with ever increasing rates of polio year after year (over 300 last year), suffice to say this has become a national health emergency. Yet, despite the hype in the local and international media, it is not being treated as one. Cosmetic efforts at “protecting” health workers undertaking what has become a high risk job, posting one or two police officers with teams operating in notorious areas around the country, is foolhardy and simply not enough. The number of fatalities do all the talking. The government must change its strategy, and fast.

The rescheduled three day polio campaign in Balochistan that was to begin in Quetta on Tuesday suffered from the usual security glitches, with health department officials ceding to a lack of security arrangements for the delay. The fact is, immunizing our children against a deadly disease has become an exercise in death and violence for health workers, for families endorsing the vaccinations and for police officers. Surely, this might be one instance to consider military protection. As it stands, the army continues to be regarded as the most legitimate institution in this country and certainly is one of the most effective. The police has tried and failed, not because of their own ineptness but because of simple manpower and logistical problems when undertaking polio operations. No more lives must be lost in the pursuit of this task. Polio health workers, returning day after day to a job in which they risk their lives, and the police officers posted to protect them have gained this nation’s utmost respect and we salute them for their bravery. However, they must not be sacrificed so easily by making the same mistake over and over again. For more manpower and logistical maneuvering, other security measures have to be explored. There is no other way.