The report of an estimated 13000 health workers associated to the national polio campaign being laid off is extremely troubling. For one, with the lack of progress our country has shown in polio eradication in the past few years, sacking a very large portion of the anti-polio workforce is tantamount to shutting up shop and giving up on the fight against poliovirus.

It is also ironic that the two provinces with the most cases this year are the ones where workers have lost their jobs. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, with 22 cases in 2020 has laid off roughly 2000, while Sindh, currently standing at 21 cases, has laid off as many as 11000.

The government has now opted for a different strategy; due to the shortage in funds, polio workers will now be hired on the basis of ten-day campaigns, as opposed to the old practice of monthly salaries. For the polio workers however—a large portion of which are women—in far-flung areas of these provinces, this is tantamount to completely disrupting the employment ecosystem, and taking away one of the few options residents of the areas have at working for a reliable salary.

Let us not forget that polio workers across the country have faced life-threatening dangers and constant vaccine refusals do not make this an easy task. For them to put their lives on the line all to get unceremoniously sacked is simply unfair.

The inability to secure funding for the polio campaign is undoubtedly challenging; especially when a pandemic has taken up all the global focus of healthcare efforts. For Pakistan however, eradicating polio remains a priority, and international donors must also be made to realise this fact.

Even though COVID-19 has captured our collective attention, polio remains a serious problem threatening future generations. Any efforts to revamp the healthcare system of our country must start with eradicating a disease that has all but disappeared from the rest of the world.