Life is cheap for polio workers in Pakistan. Earning a paltry Rs 250 per day, and working tirelessly in the face of relentless and fatal threats, our heroic health workers serve with a dedication disproportionate to the ‘rewards’ of the job. In an effort to better protect them, security details have been assigned to accompany vaccination teams. However, this guarantees little security and only places a greater number of people at risk of attack.

An attack on a convoy in Khyber Agency on Saturday claimed 11 lives — most of them security personnel, who stepped out of their vehicles to respond to gunfire. The attackers are not men of logic. Additional security details do not deter them, they provide them more targets. They are not men of science. It matters little to them that polio has been proven to be easily preventable, and that conspiracy theories around the vaccine are easily deflatable fiction. They are not men of mercy. An eight year old girl lost her life in the encounter, countless others of her generation are at risk from a life-ending disease that is heart-breakingly simple and yet impossible to protect from.

The recurring mistake of the state is to follow a policy based simply on protecting its assets, instead of one that crushes its enemies as the first instinct. The reason areas of North-West Pakistan are rife with conspiracy theories, and misperceptions is because the flow of information has been left in the hands of extremists, by a silent state. And their power derives itself from mental manipulation, not just violence and intimidation. Indulging the propensity of their audience to believe that the nefarious Americans are out to sterilize a whole generation of Pakistanis, they have managed to instil and encourage a reluctance to accept the polio campaign for what it is: a good thing for the future of our children. This means that not just polio workers, but those who protect them, are persona non grata. The problem is not limited to areas of KPK. One of the most devastating attacks this year was on health workers in Karachi. With a mindset like this taking root across the country, is it any wonder that Pakistan is the only country in the world where polio is on the rise?