Polio: our badge of shame

SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association)

THE sorry tale of Pakistan’s abysmal performance in practically all global development and welfare indicators is equalled, perhaps, only by the state’s stubborn, almost criminal, refusal to undertake the task at hand.

Nothing, it seems can bestir the administrators of this country, regardless of whichever party is in power, into taking their responsibilities seriously.

Consider, for example, the fact that Pakistan made history on Friday: it broke its own record of polio cases, with eight additional cases being reported on this day, bringing this year’s tally — so far — to 202. The last time we saw such a high number of confirmations was in 2000, when 199 cases were recorded.

This regression is all the more distressing when it is considered that hardly 10 years ago, the indications were that the spread of the crippling virus was being brought under control in the country and there was hope that soon Pakistan too would join the majority of the globe’s nations that had proved themselves polio-free.

That this sorry state of affairs comes after international authorities concluded that Pakistan is in danger of reintroducing the virus to other countries, and the World Health Organisation recommended travel restrictions on unvaccinated travellers from Pakistan, is a damning indictment of the authorities’ lackadaisical attitude.

Almost all figures in political and bureaucratic circles have, at some point or the other, over the months past professed their recognition of the issue and their commitment to eradicating polio.

The fact that none of these people have subsequently put in any sustained action, or organised concerted and meaningful efforts, means that they were simply using it as a photo-op.

From Imran Khan to Maulana Samiul Haq, from Aseefa Bhutto Zardari to Maryam Nawaz, to say nothing of those directly involved such as the heads of the prime minister’s focal team for polio and the officials of the health department — all have professed their commitment to protecting future generations from this dreaded disease. And yet, there has been no sustained action at all; if anything, the issue only continues to worsen.

The travel advisory constitutes a reminder of the pariah status Pakistan faces if polio is not brought under control. While funds from international donors have been pouring in to bolster Pakistan’s own efforts and resources, all they have elicited are promises that have proved false and half-baked measures, such as the non-functional system of checking for vaccination certificates at airports.

The world could be forgiven for wondering what it will take to get Pakistan to put its own house in order in this regard. There is, perhaps, only one thing left to say now. The political classes are once again mulling over the shape of the country’s future; they need reminding that no future at all is possible with a crippled population.



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