THE situation in Pakistan concerning polio leaves little room for optimism. When the WHO launched the Global Eradication Initiative in 1994, the disease paralysed roughly 3,50,000 children every year in 125 countries. Between then and now, most countries’ efforts in this regard have brought it under control. Not Pakistan, though, which is one of only three polio-endemic countries that remain. Internationally, the clouds seem to be darkening over the country’s polio eradication efforts. In December, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative’s independent monitoring board joined the voices calling for making it mandatory for Pakistanis to present proof of having been vaccinated against polio before travelling abroad. And international donors, who claim that they have been pumping in about $100m a year for polio-prevention initiatives, have refused to provide any more funds.
Fortunately, the Jeddah-based Islamic Development Bank has approved a $250m loan for the three-year polio eradication plan that has been devised by this government, and into which the latter has promised to inject a further $49m. Will this spur our efforts to combat the virus? There are indications to the contrary. In earlier years, when money for polio eradication was plentiful and adverse conditions such as the resistance by the TTP and others were absent, we failed to succeed. At root, the problem is at least partly systemic. The polio vaccination drive has indeed been massive, but it has had gaps and areas of thin coverage; there have been reservations over the integrity of the drops — and such flaws can simply not be tolerated when tackling a disease that spreads like polio. If any further evidence were needed of this, there is the measles issue: although the disease is completely preventable and the vaccination is common and non-controversial, dozens of children are sick or dying of it. Pakistan needs to vastly improve its vaccination awareness and coverage campaigns.