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Pakistan Must Fight Those Who Threaten and Kill Health Workers Providing Medication Against Polio - Select Editorials, 12 January 2014

13 January 2014

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The News, January 12, 2014

Editorial : Polio politics

The attempt to stop a terrible disease in its tracks in our country has become mixed up with politics to create a very ugly situation. As a year in which 83 cases – most of them afflicting young children – just closed, a spokesman for the Darul Uloom Haqqania seminary in Akora Khattak has lashed out at the Fata secretariat for publishing an edict or ‘fatwa’ from seminary administrator Maulana Samiul Haq in the local media without his permission. In the ‘fatwa’ the clerical leader had spoken out against attacks on anti-polio vaccination teams. He has since retracted it after criticism from Mullah Fazlullah, the Taliban chief, known as a staunch opponent of vaccination. Maulana Sami’s spokesman also says the publication of the edict impedes his efforts – of which we have seen precious little – to move on with the peace effort with the Taliban. It is in fact becoming increasingly hard to know how the effort to eradicate polio is to succeed. Vaccination team supervisors in the Khyber Agency had a few days ago refused to participate in an anti-polio campaign, citing security concerns. Two hundred levies and other security personnel have now been roped in to help deliver the drops. But while the militant hostility remains, and even important people unable to freely speak out, it is hard to see how things will change.

There are other complications too. The Punjab chief minister has ordered a high-powered team to visit Toba Tek Singh and Shorkot districts to look into the high number of cases reported from there. Logistical and administrative problems are presumably the key culprit here. What we have then is a mixture of issues, preventing us from breaking free of the polio scourge. The militant threat perhaps ranks highest. The result is that for this year Pakistan has reported the highest number of cases from amongst the three nations in the world where the disease is still endemic. Threats of travel restrictions for Pakistanis also hang over us because of our problems with polio. This is simply not acceptable. The battle against polio is one we need to win at all costs. To do so our political, social and religious leaders will need to play a more active role while we also need to work with experts if we are to halt the progress of a disease that has assumed the form of a bogey due to the many complexities attached to it. The brew becomes thicker by the day as more ingredients are shaken in.

o o o

Daily Times

Editorial: Refusal by polio workers

January 12, 2014

The long ugly saga of Pakistan’s battle with polio in these extremist times has taken yet another turn for the worst. Health workers in the Khyber tribal district have refused to participate in a three-day anti-polio campaign, which was due to start yesterday. This setback has come three weeks after another health official was gunned down in Jamrud whilst administrating polio drops to children. Now, amidst threats from the militants, more health workers are refusing to put their lives at risk for what is probably Pakistan’s most significant health fight. The fact that polio is a life-crippling disease has not been enough to enforce a stringent vaccination drive because of the constant attacks by terrorists on any and every campaign initiated to tackle the virus. There are too many children in the tribal areas and in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa who have been deprived of the vital polio drops, increasing the probabilities of infection. There were more than 89 fresh cases of polio reported last year, with one already surfacing in Karachi in 2014.

The fact that Pakistan is facing an upward swing in polio cases is worrying indeed. What is more alarming is that now healthcare workers are refusing to aid in the fight against it because too many of them have been killed for undertaking this noble task. That leaves hundreds of thousands of children at risk, particularly in the tribal region where the epidemic is most prevalent. It is from this region where the virus can — and is — spread to other parts of the country. It is this very reason that sees the international community putting its guard up. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has put Pakistan on its watch list and has given it an end date of 2015 to rid itself of polio or otherwise face travel bans, effectively making us a pariah state.
The health officials have taken this hard stance for two reasons: rising threats and poor security. With all the negatives associated with the disease, why is the government not doing something to facilitate the anti-polio workers? Imran Khan, the leader of the PTI whose government is in power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, has spoken about being active in the war against polio but why is he not doing what is most important: helping those who are out in the field, administrating medication and suffering violent consequences for their humane acts? It is time for the governments to shed their complacency and indifference in this matter. There are no two ways about it — the militant threat in the fight against polio must be thwarted and the health workers facilitated in every way possible. *

SEE ALSO:

Pakistan: Mortality and Morality Enforcers - Taliban’s War on Health Workers and on University Campuses —A compilation of reports and commentary

What is behind the the sudden upsurge of violence towards polio vaccinators in Pakistan?

The Polio Jihad by Omar Ali

Pakistan’s war on polio workers by Afiya Shehrbano