Limping towards polio eradication
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has identified Pakistan, India, Afghanistan and Nigeria as the four ‘polio endemic’ countries of the world.
It’s distressing to learn that according to WHO surveys, nearly 80% of all polio cases reported from these states come from Pakistan, with 144 confirmed cases in 2010 and 57 reported during the first half of this year. This trend, despite consistent efforts to combat the disease through mass immunisation campaigns across urban and rural localities, poses many questions.
Health and social sector experts reiterate several obvious reasons for Pakistan’s inability to control polio like other countries, despite massive global support and funding. Many hold the inherent social and political corruption as culprit. While global health organisations offer funding and rely on government and local organisations to micro-manage the vaccination programmes, it has become a lucrative occupation for many to establish NGOs, acquire funds and deliver only a fraction of the resources to the intended people.
While illiteracy, conflict and religious extremism stand as great hurdles, the anti-west mindset has also shaped widespread misconceptions about the polio vaccine. Misguiding decrees by clerics and community elders have greatly impaired progress and it is commonly believed consumption of the vaccine’s droplets sterilises children as part of a western plot to control the Muslim and Pakistani population.
Meanwhile, below par water and sanitation conditions and displacement of entire communities following natural disasters, such as the 2005 earthquake and the 2010 floods make matters worse. With all these impediments at work, it isn’t surprising to see the number of polio cases climb in Pakistan while the rest of Asia is said to be very close to controlling its spread. And Pakistan’s failure at solving the problem has begun to put off the biggest supporters of its polio campaign.
The World Bank and the WHO have both asked Pakistan to take serious measures or suffer conversion of the World Bank’s grant for polio vaccination into a loan. Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft who funds some of the largest polio eradication programmes, has recently emphasised the need for Pakistan to uphold the efforts of the international community.
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