- A story of failure
The PTI had come to power without any preparation for the arduous job of running a country with a population of over 213 million and scores of serious problems. It was claimed that once an honest Prime Minister was holding the levers of power, every serious problem would soon get resolved. Within two years the self-serving claim has turned out to be false in several spheres, including polio eradication. WPV cases that were gradually going down from 54 in 2015 to 20 in 2016, 8 in 2017 and 12 in 2018, sharply rose under PTI rule to 147 in 2019. During the last few months the number has already reached 67. Pakistan and Afghanistan remain the only two countries in the world reporting polio cases and being considered a potential source of dissemination of the virus to other countries.
The two years of the PTI rule are marked by an upsurge in polio cases. There are two major reasons behind the phenomenon. First, appointment of incompetent focal persons handpicked by the PM, like Mr Babar bin Ata and Dr Zafar Mirza. In both cases the government discovered, though much after the harm had been done, that the choice was inappropriate. The second reason was the sheer political opportunism which stood in the way of enforcing the writ of the state. The PTI government was simply reluctant to alienate the clerics, especially in KP, who opposed vaccination. The PTI feared that if the religious leaders turned hostile, this could result in loss of votes.
The task of controlling polio has now been handed over to the newly appointed Special Assistant to PM (SAPM) on health Dr Faisal Sultan. On Wednesday Dr Sultan paid his first visit to the National Emergency Operation Centre (NEOC) where he expressed the government’s determination to eradicate the virus. The task ahead will test the new focal person’s competence. But as long as political exigencies are allowed to stand in the way of the enforcement of the state’s writ, polio cannot be eradicated. Two years after paying monthly salaries to prayer leaders, who deliver Friday sermons in KP, and allocating millions of rupees to seminaries, the time has come when he who pays the piper must call the tune.