WITH the start of a national immunisation drive against polio on Monday, there is reason to ponder how efforts to eradicate the disease, instead of taking on an urgency, are in slow-burner mode. The campaign to immunise every last child, as is the motto of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, cannot be said to have slowed down. Indeed, in recent years, new and significant challenges have been tackled, from the problem of parents refusing vaccination for their children, to armed attacks, often fatal, against many polio workers and their security detail. Even so, the continued circulation of the virus and its intermittent emergence now seem to be viewed with a degree of ennui, even disillusionment where chances of success are concerned. For a country that remains one of only three — the others being Afghanistan and Nigeria — in the world that are classified as ‘polio-endemic’, this approach is deeply unsettling and highlights our tendency to become resigned to a situation when it persists for long enough; at the very least, our efforts lose momentum as in this battle against polio
As an illustration of this, consider the fact that early this month, after a 20-month hiatus, Karachi saw a new case of a seven-month-old baby diagnosed with polio. His parents, refugees from Afghanistan, are said to have consistently refused to have their child vaccinated. It was also the fourth case reported from across the country this year. On Sept 14, presiding over a task force for polio eradication in Karachi, the Sindh chief minister spoke of how this one case had undone all the previous hard work to make the city polio-free. While the acknowledgement is necessary, the fact is that Pakistan keeps arriving at this juncture over and over again, and is caught in a loop. The spread of polio is, perhaps, no longer uncontrolled, but neither are we close to eradicating the crippling virus. New strategies are needed on an emergency footing.