Multan

Asking the government to tackle the issue of polio on war-footing, the leaders of different political parties said that imposition of polio certification condition on Pakistani international travellers indicated complete failure of the rulers on diplomatic front as well as internal affairs.

Talking to this scribe PPP leader Malik Aamir Dogar dubbed the prevailing situation as a complete failure of the rulers while JI leader Mian Asif Mehmood Akhwani suggested to the government to restore the credibility of the polio programme besides clearing the reservations of citizens on vaccine, if it wanted to make the drive successful.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has imposed travel restrictions on Pakistanis following country's failure in controlling polio. All the citizens travelling abroad have to obtain a polio vaccination certificate before boarding an international flight. The pace of polio cases being reported from different areas of the country is alarming as 99 cases have so far surfaced in the first seven months of the current year.  The lowest number of cases during the last 14 years was reported in 2005 when just 28 cases surfaced. However, since then the number of cases kept rising. Health sources said that as many as 40 cases were reported in 2006, 32 in 2007, 117 in 2008, 89 in 2009, 144 in 2010, 198 in 2011, 58 in 2012 and 93 in 2013.

PPP South Punjab Secretary General Malik Aamir Dogar said that Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto had had a dream to eliminate polio from Pakistan. "That's why Asifa Bhutto was appointed as ambassador of this campaign while our governments did a lot to bring funding for this campaign," he added. He said that it was unfortunate for Pakistan that restriction of polio certification was imposed on Pakistanis before international travel. "It's failure of rulers. The government needs to bring all provincial governments on one page to defeat the propaganda and convince the citizens to get their children vaccinated," he added.

A member of ruling party PML-N, however, rejected the stance of PTI and PPP leaders and claimed that the government left no stone unturned to eliminate this crumbling menace. Chairman of Punjab Assembly's Standing Committee on Youth, Culture and Sports Mian Shahzad Maqbool Bhutta said that the government tackled the issue on war-footing. "We've requested clerics to convince parents, we've asked teachers to clear the minds of parents and finally we've deployed police to ensure vaccination of every single kid. What else can we do?" he asked a question while giving details of government's efforts to control the march of polio. He added that special security measures were adopted for the protection of polio vaccination teams while orders were issued for registration of cases against parents resisting or denying polio vaccination of their kids.

District Amir of Jamaat-e-Islami Multan Mian Asif Mehmood Ikhwani had a different view. "The programme has lost its credibility and people are highly suspicious about it. The government should get the vaccine tested from a well-reputed lab and make its report public," he said. He was of the opinion that the polio vaccination programme had become controversial after its utilization by the CIA for espionage in Abbotabad. He was of the opinion that forced vaccination, registration of cases against parents and imposition of travel restrictions on Pakistan made the programme further suspicious in the eyes of public. "People think as to why the West is so kind to us and giving free vaccines to prevent our generations from disability while these folks are killing Muslims across the world," he opined.

Meanwhile, PTI Secretary General Jahangir Khan Tareen said that the federal government completely failed to tackle poliovirus in Pakistan. "In year 2011 polio cases in Pakistan rose by 37%, and continued to grow in the following years. Therefore, the Federal Government should have foreseen that Pakistan, being one of the only three polio-endemic countries in the world will eventually suffer sanctions," he added. He said that the federal health ministry was solely responsible for the travel restrictions on Pakistan because it did nothing since to eradicate polio from the country. "They never focused on the problem until it was too late," he regretted.

Giving details of PTI's efforts to tackle poliovirus, he said that when WHO declared Peshawar as the largest polio reservoir of the world, PTI decided to take prompt action and within a month launched the Sehat ka Insaf polio eradication program. He said that the WHO monitored the program and declared it as a most innovative and successful polio eradication drive. "PTI has proven to the whole world that the strategy it adopted in the shape of Sehat Ka Insaf has rooted out poliovirus from Peshawar for the first time in many years," he added.

He said that the PTI and its Government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa mobilized thousands of police officials and Tabdeeli Razakars to form the largest polio drive in the history of Pakistan. Criticising Federal Government's strategy, he said that it continued with its antique ways of implementing polio eradication drives which completely failed over all these years. "I think that the precedence set by Sehat Ka Insaf has put the federal government in a predicament as they are hesitant to replicate our model for the fear of being picked up by the media nor can they continue with their old unsuccessful campaigns," he added. He said that for the sake of the children of Pakistan, PTI had offered full support to the government to help formulate polio eradication programs similar to Sehat ka Insaf.

Answering a question, he said that due to attacks on polio teams all polio campaigns should be conducted on a focused and short time period format to minimize the exposure of the health workers to terrorism.

"The time period can be one day as in case of Peshawar in which sehat ka insaf was for one day each for 12 Sundays/Saturdays," he added. He stressed the need for financial transparency, saying all funding should directly be spent by the donors themselves to ensure judicious spending of funds curb corruption in the polio program. He pointed out that proper awareness and mass education campaigns regarding polio were required to make polio drops generic with other childhood vaccine preventable diseases to help shed away misconceptions surrounding polio vaccine and its association with CIA due to the suspicious role of Dr Shakeel Afridi.

"The community must be taken on board and youth volunteers must be used to build enthusiasm and fill the void in case health workers are reluctant in the beginning," he further proposed.