Not a good day for the fight against polio. Not only could a planned jirga in North Waziristan, one that was supposed to lay the groundwork for the anti-polio campaign, not be held, but a foreign WHO doctor and his driver were also attacked in Karachi, in an area peopled by the immigrant tribesmen of the same NWA.
In the overall struggle against the avoidable disease, the country has been set back by many, many decades due to the insidious role of its religious orthodoxy. Out of these, a note specifically on the Taliban and their affiliates in the tribal areas. Nowhere has their case been weaker than on this particular issue. With the virus taking one victim after the other, village after village, town after town, the reactionary propaganda machine still cranks unabated.
The Taliban’s apologists, never the last word on thought-out-till-the-end arguments, at least have the flimsy semblance of structured argument when they tie the militia’s actions with the American involvement in Afghanistan. Here, even that is missing. Yet, one will see no condemnation of this behaviour by the aforementioned quarters.
Yes, things were made bad by the Dr Shakil Afridi case. The whole episode reinforced the manufactured notions that these vaccination campaigns have some sort of sinister agenda behind them. Surely, a better ruse could have been used to gather intelligence prior to the Osama takeout - one that did not compromise the already-constrained freedom with which our public health apparatus operates.
Be that as it may, drives like getting the local jirgas getting on board with the idea, be it through reasoning or maybe even incentivisation, might work. The lives of health workers or, for that matter, census officials or election staff, are going to be at risk, no matter what. But if local community leaders are engaged, those risks could be mitigated. Let’s keep on trying to talk to them.