Via The Express Tribune, an op-ed by public health physician Samia Altaf: The continuing polio debacle. Apparently the problem involves much more than trigger-happy fanatics. Excerpt:
Pakistan’s polio debacle continues to fester. In 2004, Pakistan was on the brink of being clean but failed, and the virus is now being exported to other countries. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared a health emergency, clamping travel restrictions on Pakistanis. These, in turn, have generated separate implementation challenges for the government.
For those who have followed the polio eradication campaigns closely, the challenges are evident and well known. Fixed centres are short of supplies; staff trained by donors is sitting idle, creating fictitious reports; parents who show up are turned away.
Other more immediate challenges are voiced during vaccination campaigns. Recently, health workers in Kohat refused to participate in a polio eradication drive because they had not been paid their salaries since January. In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, three health technicians were charged with murder because they had caused the death of children due to incorrect administration of vaccine. Close to 150 government employees have been arrested for corruption during vaccination campaigns.
These challenges, along with poor vaccination coverage rates, are not new information. Coverage rates in Pakistan have not been more than 50 per cent for the past two decades. Moreover, they range from as low as 26 per cent in poor communities to 66 per cent in affluent ones. Programme evaluators have voiced reservations about the ability of the programme to achieve its objectives for many years.
On the other hand, negativity stemming from religious beliefs is a minor issue admitted by the government — 0.5 per cent of vaccination refusals are on religious grounds despite the fact that close to a hundred fatwas have been rendered by religious scholars in support of the vaccinations.
How polio spreads and the measures to counter its spread are well known as are the facts and challenges. The question is, how are the authorities planning to overcome these problems?
All governments for the past two decades have supported polio eradication efforts. The current government has also prepared a plan — the 2014 Peshawar Plan for polio eradication — just as the previous one prepared a National Emergency Plan for Polio Eradication in 2011.
Unfortunately, the 2014 plan, like the 2011 one, is not likely to achieve the intended results. It, too, seems set to fail and for the same reasons. These plans are too abstract and unrealistic and do not articulate a coherent strategy to overcome the challenges that are being brought to the government’s notice even as we speak.