January 26, 2014


It seems we specialise in bad news; and in getting better on them each time. Last week’s WHO statement that Peshawar is the "largest reservoir of polio" in the world came as a shock. It called for action. So action we saw -- in the form of young polio workers, women and men, mothers of young children and students of college, killed for being involved in the anti-polio campaign.

Our capacity for self-destruction is unbelievable.

The next sad statement came from Bill Gates who has invested hugely in this campaign inside Pakistan along with other countries. He warned that violence in Pakistan and Nigeria could set back his goal of polio eradication by 2018. "The Pakistan violence is evil", he is reported to have said, adding that "these people don’t have justice and truth on their side".

Instead of looking at the administrative lapses that may have happened and taking a critical look at the effectiveness of the campaign, what is of utmost concern now is the safety of the polio workers spread across in a countrywide campaign. The governments for the last two decades have remained committed to the issue but have, for one reason or the other, failed in eradicating polio completely.

That the incidence of polio is geographically bound within the country is a sad indicator of the fact that conflict areas are prone to conspiracies of all kinds. The statistics of today are a product of the long held campaign of the religious leaders. But the worst time came some two years ago when the Taliban declared an open war against the polio campaign: they banned polio vaccine in some of the tribal areas, particularly North and South Waziristan and Khyber Agency, linking it with the US drone attacks.

That Pakistan has the worst ranking in the world along with Afghanistan and Nigeria in terms of incidence of polio seems sadder because our next door neighbour India, with its huge population and crippling poverty, has managed to become polio free on the strength of various factors that we too could well have emulated.

Right now, we are in a state of polio emergency alongside a host of other emergencies. The immediate challenge now is to save the polio workers from violence and think of alternate means to reach each and every child. Otherwise we will remain paralysed for decades to come.