With above 1.5 million children directly exposed to the risk of polio, Pakistan is one of the three remaining countries – Afghanistan and Nigeria – that still suffer an endemic case of the crippling virus. In conventional understanding, places within the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the tribal areas are seen as the hot spots of the virus but according to a WHO report, polio eradication workers view Punjab as their biggest challenge instead of KPK. The main reason for this, as explained by the workers, is in the non-availability of the child during the National Immunisation Days (NID). These absent children – referred to as ‘missed targets’ – amounted to 205 according to last year’s data.
Peshawar was declared the largest reservoir of polio cases in the world by the WHO. It was stated that every polio case in the country could be genetically linked to strains of the virus circulation in Peshawar. Much of the issue is exacerbated by the inaccessibility of several areas, the long running, entirely baseless rumour that polio vaccination causes infertility and is a conspiracy to end our future generations; and then the paranoia induced by the unfortunate case of espionage has now become an accepted image of polio workers. Further worsening this imbroglio we find ourselves knee-deep in, is the lack of commitment and investment from the federal and provincial governments. In our neighbourhood, India, polio became almost non-existent not through wizardry but the sheer will and dedication that polio campaigners, community and religious leaders and the central government showed in eliminating it.
It may seem daunting to solve, but our polio problem only requires sincere assistance from the government, including protection for polio workers, as well as far-reaching methods adopted by campaigners. An inclusive program devised for all parts of Pakistan will prove to be essential. With the last polio case having being discovered in Karachi, desperate measures are needed, and not just for KPK.