Shahbaz Sharif is certainly correct in calling for an increase in awareness about thalassemia, but drawing comparisons to polio is misrepresenting the issue. No two diseases are the same, and harping on about the Punjab’s clean polio record doesn’t mean anything relevant when discussing thalassemia. In some ways, making the province and the country thalassemia free is an even bigger ideological and logistical difficulty. The treatment is expensive and dangerous, and the root of its prevention lies in a strong awareness campaign that focuses, amongst other things, on inter-marriages. Additionally, it requires pre-marriage screening and certification.

The Chief Minister has been using polio as a tool of political point scoring and the relative safety of polio workers in the Punjab has given an advantage to the PML-N over its opponents. Shahbaz Sharif now needs to look towards his own borders and work on legislation that works to control the disease, that disseminates information on its spread and prevention. A focus on prevention alongside treatment, will be key.

The fact that 8000 babies are born with the disease in Pakistan every year is a frightening reminder of how far we have to go, and with health having devolved to the provincial governments, there is a real task at hand. In a country where many don’t have the luxury of birth certificates, getting pre-marriage screening certifications sounds like an impossibility. Still, in every possible way, the governments must persist and additionally ensure that an up to date database for records and certifications is kept.