Polio is back

The detection of three more cases of polio in Sindh (Karachi), Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has brought the total for the year to 72, which is the highest figure since at last 2015. In fact, the figure represents a recurrence of the dreaded disease, which was showing signs of heading towards elimination. With 54 cases in 2015 coming down to twenty, eight and twelve in succeeding years, it seemed only a matter of time before it was eliminated from Pakistan. It bears mentioning that Pakistan is among the last three countries, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria, where polio still strikes. The uptick in the number of cases represents one of the worst public health failures of the present regime, for it has control of not just the federal government, but also three provincial governments, whose health departments are the front line in this conflict.
Perhaps the most damaging action by the current government has been a falling off in government insistence on vaccination. Experience has shown that the main means of control of the poliovirus is by vaccinating children. Unfortunately, vaccination has become a weapon in the War on Terror, whereby clerics advance their own agenda by claiming that vaccines have been infused with various harmful effects, the most fearsome being infertility. Faced with the choice of certain infertility and the relatively remote chance of permanent crippling, parents choose the latter. Tempers have run so high that vaccinators have been killed for their temerity, and it has become necessary to have them escorted by the police.
The problem with diseases like polio is that all the hard work of working for its elimination is wasted by the kind of neglect the government has shown. The number of cases may not seem very high, but one only needs to ask the family of someone afflicted by polio to learn that the human cost of even a single case is immense, perhaps too immense for a society to afford even a single case if it can be avoided.