Bill Gates, founder of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said that the dream of a polio free Pakistan by 2018 cannot be fulfilled. The main reason is the incidents of terror across the country. He said that killing polio workers is unjust and unfair. He was responding to the killings of three polio workers in Karachi on 21st of January, 2014. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a major supporter of Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI).
Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) was launched in 1988. At that time polio virus was endemic in 125 countries and 350,000 children were paralyzed by polio annually. But since then GPEI efforts has reduced the polio cases by more than 99 percent. It has saved more than 10 million children from paralysis. Only 347 polio cases were recorded in the year 2013. Polio is endemic in only three countries – Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. In 2013 the number of polio cases decreased in Afghanistan and Nigeria as compared to the year 2012.
But the story of Pakistan is altogether different. It is the only country in the world where the number of polio cases increased in 2013 as compared to 2012. In Pakistan Polio eradication campaign was officially initiated in 1994. Since then 20 million children have been vaccinated each year. In 1988 the number of registered polio cases was 20,000 in Pakistan. In 1997 the number reduced to 1147 and then to 28 in 2005. At that point of time it was thought that within few years Pakistan will be able to get the status of polio free nation. But after that instead of decrease we saw an increase in the number of polio cases. 144 in 2010, 192 in 2011, 58 in 2012 and 91 polio cases were registered in the year 2013. Pakistan is the only country where polio cases are identified in the year 2014.
The main reason of increase in polio cases is the deteriorating situation of peace in country especially in Karachi and FATA. In 2012, warlord Hafiz Gul Bahadur banned polio vaccination in North Waziristan and Mula Nazir group banned it in South Waziristan. Polio eradication campaign has not been pursued in North and South Waziristan since last one and half year. At least 160,000 children in North Waziristan and 80,000 in South Waziristan were deprived of polio vaccine due to this ban.
Other fact which is making the situation graver is the continuous killings of polio workers, volunteers and policemen. The recent incidents of killing three polio workers (one male and two females) in Karachi and 7 people (6 policemen and a child) in Charsadda, KPK have increased the death toll to 41 since July 2012. These attacks resulted in postponing the polio campaign in Karachi and parts of KPK.
Lady Health Workers Programme was started in 1994 by Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Today, more than 110,000 lady health workers are in the field. Along these health workers about 90,000 volunteers take part in the polio eradication campaign. So more than 200,000 polio workers run every vaccination campaign. But the pity is that their lives are not secure. Every day when they leave their house they are not sure they will come back alive. We have to praise the incredible bravery of these selfless polio workers risking their lives for the noble cause.
But the Government has completely failed to provide security to polio workers. There was no security for polio workers killed in Karachi despite the danger of attacks. Sharjeel Memon, Minister of Information & Archive & Additional Local Government Department Sindh, was not sure who was responsible for this security lapse i.e. polio workers administration or police administration.
Saira Tarrar, Minister of Health Services, Regulation and Coordination said, “We need two policemen per team, and that would mean about 3,600 policemen. Given our security constraints, that is impossible.”
This is not the positive attitude towards a threat like polio. We have to define our jobs and we have to provide security to the polio workers. Our esteem in the international world is at stake due to our failure to eradicate polio. Last year 12 out of 13 polio cases in Afghanistan were genetically related to polio virus found in Peshawar. The polio viruses found and Egypt, Syria and China were also related to the virus found in Sindh. So we are creating problems for international community and we can face serious allegations. Dr Bruce Aylward, Assistant Director General of Polio, WHO, said that international community is anxious over the widespread of polio virus in Pakistan. He warned that if the Polio virus will not be contained, Pakistan can face travel and visa restrictions.
Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) is developing a plan that will serve all the activities necessary for a polio free world by 2018. The cost of this program is US $1 billion a year. Due to this high cost the campaign is not sustainable in the long run. And the failure to eradicate this contagious disease can result in as many as 200,000 new cases each year within a decade.
This dream of polio free world cannot be fulfilled by 2018 according to Bill Gates. The responsibility lies on the people and Government of Pakistan. The parents who are denying polio vaccination should be aware that they are bullying the children of whole world along their own children. Religious scholars should tell the people that the polio eradication campaign is not against the teachings of Islam or an American plot to sterile their children. Denying polio vaccine will not harm America but their children. And most importantly Government has to provide security to polio workers at any price.
Famous American president John F. Kennedy once said, “Children are world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for future”. If we want to save this valuable resource, if we want to save our esteem in global community, if we want to save us from isolation and if we want to fulfill the dream of polio free world, we have to act wisely, vigorously, bravely and determinately.