The year 2016 was supposed to be the year when Pakistan would finally be rid of the devastating disease of polio, and make public health priority. Instead in the second month of the year, Pakistan and Afghanistan both have reported their first cases of polio. With the Zika virus now creeping up in Pakistan, it is only a matter of time that we descend into panic and susceptibility.

An official of the Ministry of National Health Services has confirmed that 34-month-old Ijaz Khan, a resident of Gadap Town in Karachi belonging to a Pakhtun family of Mohmand tribe, had the onset of polio. The child had been administered two doses during routine immunisation and seven during different polio campaigns, but caught the disease anyway due to low immunity. It is possible that this occurred because Polio campaigns had been deferred twice in Karachi last year, due to lack of security provided to vaccinators by the police. It is also possible that the child missed a necessary dose during that period.

In another concerning news, health authorities in Punjab have also issued a Zika virus alert and convened series of meetings of experts for formulating strategy to control the menace. They have directed all the districts to immediately go for clinical tests of people with mild symptoms of dengue, also briefing them of its consequences for affected people, especially pregnant women and newborns. The claim is that there is no immediate threat of the virus due to little movement of people from the affected countries in South and Central America to Pakistan. However, given our usual approach of ‘ignorance is bliss’; this warning should be taken seriously.

An anti-polio drive was held this year from January 11 to 15 and to ensure the effectiveness of the campaign, the authorities had taken some strict initiatives to ensure that all children below five years of age would be administered in all six districts in Karachi whether the parents fully agreed or not. The success of such campaigns can however only be ensured, by actively educating the masses of its importance so they may accept and support it instead of avoiding it at all costs.

It is high time that Pakistan gets rid of this easily preventable disease and steps ups its efforts especially in Balochistan, where health initiatives are negligible. The infrastructure to tackle such threats is already here. The government must step up its efforts to eliminate the high risk Zika Virus poses to the poor people of this country who have no access to the most basic healthcare, let alone protection from new intimidating diseases. Pakistani health authorities must remain prepared. The warning is clear and we ignore it at our peril.