International NGO criticises the country for reporting highest number of cases.
An international non-governmental organisation has criticised Pakistan on reporting the highest number of polio cases than any other country and, therefore, becoming the ‘greatest obstacle to a polio-free world’.
In its policy report titled ‘Winning the war on polio in Pakistan’, published in connection with the World Polio Day, the International Crisis Group (ICG) has warned that polio could again become a global health risk if its spread is not stopped in Pakistan.
The ICG expressed concern that while the number of polio cases was declining rapidly in Pakistan, there was still a real risk of another spike in the cases of the crippling disease if the country failed to take all significant measures to counter the years of neglect to public health services.
Such a situation reflects the government’s failure to prioritise citizens’ health as well as to curb violent extremism, said the report, adding that the prevalence of the disease and conflict was closely interlinked.
“With militant opposition to immunisation and attacks on polio workers undermining eradication efforts in the volatile FATA agencies, a coercive, military-led strategy should be replaced by a civilian-led approach that encourages community buy-in, respects rights and meets the needs of a marginalised population,” read the report.
Compared to the previous year, there has been a remarkable drop in polio cases from 328 to 38, but these gains could prove fragile. It is mainly because the militant networks have yet to be fully dismantled, as demonstrated by the September attack on an airbase in Peshawar, and their capacity to regroup, reorganise and resume strikes against the state and citizens remains intact.
The report suggested that Pakistan ensure effective implementation of the National Emergency Action Plan for Polio Eradication 2015-2016, prioritise safety and other requirements of polio workers and foster greater community acceptance of polio eradication efforts.
It also recommended executive accountability of bureaucrats and polio workers with parliamentary oversight by setting up permanent subcommittees on polio under the National Assembly and Senate standing committees on national health services, regulations and coordination, and similar committees in the provincial parliaments.
National Emergency Operation Cell for Polio coordinator Dr Rana Muhammad Safdar said the Afghanistan-Khyber-Peshawar block was still a major concern for the spread of the crippling disease because of the continuous circulation of the virus in these areas.
“However, this has been declared as one epidemiological block and efforts are under way to curtail the transmission of the polio virus in the region.”
Regarding security, he said the government had implemented its National Action Plan to continue its fight against militants and provide security cover to all the citizens of the country. “Pakistan is on track to eradicate polio from the country and will do it.”
Published in The Express Tribune, October 29th, 2015.