Polio Cases

Pakistan might be on the verge of another breakout as the eighth case has now been confirmed in North Waziristan which appears to be the hotspot of the virus. There is a very real possibility that the virus may spread to nearby districts if the government is not quick to act. An investigation is the need of the hour so that the disease can be contained and for Pakistan to, once again, retrieve the progress it had achieved earlier.

With all the cases being registered in North Waziristan, the concern is that districts like South Waziristan, Tank, Lakki Marwat and Bannu are vulnerable to the disease especially considering that samples taken from Bannu showed the presence of wild polio virus. Should we fail to treat patients, eliminate the sources of transmission and implement preventative policies, Pakistan will continue to be classified as one of the only two countries in the world where polio is still a serious health concern.

Attention must be paid to details like why North Waziristan always becomes the hotspot of the virus given that this ‘outbreak’ emulates those that were seen in the district in 2014 and 2019. Surely there is a lack of oversight in the region which is why sources of contaminated water carrying the disease are left untreated. According to the International Monitoring Board (IMB) of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, the reason for the lax governance is frequent changes in the government and there is some merit to this argument. Each government comes in with its own agenda for resolving problems and such politics either interferes with programmes like polio eradication or neglects it entirely.

Furthermore, each successive government has failed to counteract public refusal to get the vaccine. There is a taboo that accompanies the drops and many across the country still believe them to be evil. That is why families often react to polio workers violently. This begets a situation where polio workers themselves, fearful that they will lose their lives, mark children as vaccinated despite having not given them the drops.

So long as such resistance remains, there is not much that the government can do. Awareness campaigns that highlight the extent to which the disease can be crippling should be shown. At the same time, the positive effects of the polio drops must be advertised on a national scale. The government must also thoroughly survey areas like North Waziristan where the virus seems to be concentrated and should take substantive measures to address this.

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