- A disproportionately high number in KP
Two new cases of polio have been confirmed, one from Sindh and the other from KP taking the total to 62 this year. This is higher than the number of new cases from the last three years combined and a 500 per cent jump over last year. Polio eradication is a global effort that has been immensely successful in most of the world. Unfortunately, Pakistan along with neighbouring Afghanistan and Nigeria are the only three countries where polio still exists. It is difficult to understand how such an astronomic rise in cases has been reported this year when the figure had fallen significantly in the last few years- in 2014, 307 cases were reported and in 2018, only 12. A disproportionately high number of cases are from KP, 46 out of 62, where the PTI has been in power for six years. Historically KP has been the most problematic region with a majority of the total cases in the country reported in the province. One of the reasons is the increased resistance towards vaccination drives and violence against polio workers in the province as compared to the rest of the country. But these problems had been addressed in the past by the same PTI government that convinced influential religious clerics who were opposed to the polio eradication drive to become part of the effort- no wonder cases from KP dropped from 247 in 2014 to just 8 in 2018. Extra security provided by the army for polio workers also contributed heavily towards more children being vaccinated on time.
It is therefore puzzling why a downward trajectory has turned upwards by such a margin in a matter of months. PM Khan has described polio eradication as his government’s top-most priority yet it is on the rise. UNICEF, WHO and the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation who lead the effort globally have provided significant funding to Pakistan; have the funds been utilised properly? The government will have to understand the problem better through a thorough investigation that highlights the issues and restrictions in the areas worst affected by the polio virus. Only then can it move forward with eradication efforts, following a comprehensive plan with the help and support of international organisations that also want to see an end to this debilitating virus from the country.