Above and beyond any optimism lies a challenge which has hampered Pakistan’s polio eradication efforts more than the disease itself: militants that have relentlessly attacked polio immunisation teams. Keeping the crusade alive, a nationwide three-day polio campaign will start on May 16 during which over 36 million children under the age of five years will be immunised in the country. The campaign simultaneously running with one in Afghanistan, seems determined, well planned, and one that might finally see the end of this crippling disease.

The Ministry of Interior has directed the commandant of the Frontier Constabulary (FC) to ensure the deployment of security officials wherever required. But this decision has created a shortage of security personnel in Pakistan, because unlike in the past the anti-polio campaign cannot be held in phases now. According to the standard operating procedure (SOP), security has to be provided to each polio team during the campaigns- making sure no lives are under threat.

The campaigns in both the countries will start simultaneously and the aim is not to miss a single child. However, even though a tremendous improvement had been observed in the anti-polio drive, is this enough to make sure any narrative of why these campaigns are “anti- Islamic” is eliminated? A mind-set is not something that can be vaccinated against. There has to be a deployment of a sustained and universal narrative of sufficient power to overwhelm and eventually subsume the narrative that allows polio to exist in Pakistan.

Meanwhile, we can only hope for the safety of polio-workers and their security teams. These people are only doing their duty, and must be commended for their effort and perseverance. The hours they work are long, their journeys are hard and the wages are meagre. Even if anyone does not agree with the dispensation of the vaccines, to hurt people doing their jobs is a crime and morally reprehensible. But it is these simple ideas of justice and duty that have always evaded the extremist mind-set.