- Too late the hero?
The Prime Minister’s Focal Person for Polio Eradication, Ata Babar, has resigned, citing personal reasons, rather than the sixfold rise in polio cases this year that should have seen him booted out anyway. That the number of polio cases, which was 12 in 2018, has gone up to 72 already, with more than two months still to go in the year, is a case for consternation ordinarily, let alone while Pakistan, along with Nigeria and Afghanistan, is one of the last three countries in the world that still harbours the disease. Once polio is eliminated from these three, it will join smallpox as a disease which no longer affects people. In his resignation letter, Mr Babar has been fulsome in his praise for the personnel carrying out the eradication drive, but he has no word of explanation of why he has presided over such a precipitous rise in infections.
Even though he has left office to look after an ailing father, according to him, some explanation of what went wrong might have helped his successor, or at least those who will take on his responsibilities. The person ultimately responsible, the Health Services Minister, Aamir Mahmood Kiani, was sacked, but for other sins, not the polio programme. His replacement, PM’s Adviser Zafar Mahmood Mirza, does not seem to have put polio on his list of priorities. This raises the suspicion that the government may not have got it very high on its own list of priorities.
Even if the federal authorities wash their hands of the affair, saying that it is a provincial matter, it is worth noting that the overwhelming number of cases this year, 53 so far, have been recorded in KP, where the PTI has been in office since 2013. There are six cases from Baluchistan, and five from Punjab, both provinces where the PTI or an ally form the government. It is either a low priority, or is being handled by incompetent people. The future of the nation’s children is at stake. Apart from the economic costs, apart from foreign donor pressure, the government should realise the need to save children from being crippled. If this means the elimination of the dread disease, no stone must be left unturned, as it seems has been happening so far.