Polio and the PTI
Polio has become an epidemic in Pakistan. We have failed to control the virus and are notoriously now as the hub of breeding and spreading polio around the world.
Within the country, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the federally administered tribal areas (Fata) are leading the way in spreading the polio virus. As of today, 235 polio cases have been reported from around Pakistan with KP having almost double the number of all the other provinces put together. According to Aziz Memon, chairman of the Pakistan PolioPlus Committee, “This is no longer an emergency; it has become an outbreak. The government needs to take full ownership.?.?. and it needs to be done on a war footing.”
No country is even close to what Pakistan can cite as its polio figures. The rest of the world, which had successfully managed to eradicate the virus, is under constant threat from Pakistan for reintroducing it.
We reported the highest number of polio cases in the last 15 years (the maximum number was 199 in the year 2000, while this year the number has hit 231 cases). Moreover, 235 (90 percent) of the total global polio cases today are from here too.
Instead of bringing about any improvement in the situation the polio epidemic is getting out of control and has broken all previous records of the disease. What is tragic is that we are so indifferent towards such a serious matter and are playing with the lives of innocent children. The children of North Waziristan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are the biggest losers, despite the fact that most of them are IDPs and living in settled areas.
The eradication of polio is not an impossible task; where there is a will there is a way. Other countries have done it so why can’t we? By the end of 2013 WHO declared Peshawar as the hub of the polio virus. The leadership of the province declared control of polio a priority. A campaign ‘Sehat Ka Insaf’ was personally launched by Imran Khan in a well-attended press conference in Peshawar.
The health department was assigned a lead role in the campaign. Khan opened the polio eradication campaign by visiting and vaccinating children at the Haqqani madressah along with Maulana Samiul Haq. Besides vaccinating children, a fatwa in favour of polio vaccination was also obtained from the Haqqani madressah. Every campaign after this was launched by Health Minister Shaukat Yousafzai and at the end of the day the minister briefed the press on the achievements of that day.
The chief secretary of the province had law and order meetings weekly and in-house meetings fortnightly, whereas the secretary health conducted meetings on polio with all stakeholders twice a week – pre- and post-campaign – to resolve logistic issues that cropped up. To top it all, meetings of the provincial task force chaired by the chief secretary were held regularly to remove irritants if any, especially provision of funds. The chief minister chaired at least two meetings to review the progress of the campaigns.
MPAs from Peshawar were taken on board; management structures at union and town levels were strengthened by posting appropriate staff and providing funds for renting buildings in UCs with no health facilities. Experienced officers were posted at district polio control rooms. Foolproof security arrangements were ensured by taking on board all law-enforcement agencies. Lady Health Workers (LHWs) were motivated and PTI volunteers were mobilised against all odds.
The result was visible; within three months Peshawar was declared free of polio by WHO. The Technical Advisory Group (TAG) praised the efforts of the KP government and said that the province achieved what was considered impossible just a year back. What was different they asked, what made this possible? It was the involvement and ownership of the top leadership and the dynamic minister and secretary health, was the response.
After so much hard work it is heart-breaking to know that Peshawar is once again polio positive. So many excuses can be made for this failure but frankly, it is indifference and lack of accountability that are hindering progress.
Despite the fact that healthcare is a top priority of the Pakistan Tehreek Insaf (PTI) and the international community is threatening travel sanctions on Pakistan it is so terribly unfortunate that no one seems pushed about the looming disaster. The senior leadership is busy in dharnas (sit-ins) and the bureaucracy relaxing in their absence.
Health Minister Shaukat Yousafzai and his team were all unceremoniously removed from their positions. The chief minister and health minister haven’t been meeting regularly as expected. Only two meetings of the provincial task force have been held in the current year as against 10 conducted in 2013. The provincial task force meeting is chaired by the chief secretary, all commissioners and deputy commissioners, representative of the IG police, all the officers of the health department and other stakeholders are invited to the meeting.
Imran Khan cannot reach every police station or every patwari circle. He cannot reach every hospital or every school, and so he needs to shake up his team. The government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa needs to get its act together. It needs to set its priorities right and have its best people tackle such major issues. If nothing else they can at least bring back Shaukat Yousafzai. They are responsible for playing with innocent lives.