Working in the shadow of death

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How polio and polio workers are treated needs to change

 

Last month Saira Afzal Tarar rejected the Independent Monitoring Board’s report for projecting an impression to the world that Pakistan was not serious about eradicating polio. On Wednesday four polio workers were gunned down in Quetta leading the WHO to suspend its activities in the province. When incidents of the sort continue to be reported from FATA, KP, Balochistan and even Karachi again and again, people are justified to doubt if the government is taking all the measures required to eradicate polio. Similarly, if health workers are not paid the emolument month after month, or are deprived of medical treatment for injuries incurred in an attack, this too does not send a positive message about the government’s avowed resolve to fight the crippling disease.

The problem with successive administrations in Islamabad is to remain in a mode of permanent denial. The world would have cared less if polio was only a domestic issue. What perturbs the concerned international organisations is that failure by Islamabad is resulting in the spread of the disease to other countries which had succeeded in eliminating it. Genetic sequencing by WHO confirmed that the virus that crippled 13 children in Syria and the one detected in sewage samples in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip since February 2013, originated from Pakistan. In May this year, WHO finally recommended that travel restrictions be placed on Pakistan. Saudi Arabia had in fact already declared polio vaccination for Pakistanis mandatory in 2009. Four years later India imposed ban on travellers from Pakistan who came without being immunised.

Assertions of earnestness alone will satisfy few. What is required is a realisation that the situation requires much more effort. Among other measures that need to be taken are ensuring proper security for the vaccinators, timely payment of the paltry remuneration promised to them and a surety that the government will pay for their treatment in case of injuries and compensation to families of those dying in the line of duty.

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