- Cases in 2020 already equal to those in 2018
The number of polio cases this year reached 12 on Saturday, which is equal to the number for the whole of 2017, which was the last year when progress was shown in the national effort to eliminate this dreaded disease. Ever since the PTI took over in 2019, things have got out of hand, and Pakistan has only fallen back in the struggle to eliminate the disease. There were 94 cases in 2019, and 33 in 2018. One of the problems has been that the PM’s first Focal Person on Polio Eradication, Babar Ata, resigned because he wanted to look after an ailing parent. His replacement, Dr Amanullah Abro, does not seem to have got a proper handle on the job, because the rate of infection only seems to be speeding up.
Instead of doing something about the problem, Prime Minister Imran Khan has blamed Afghanistan, which he says is sending cases over. It should be noted that Afghanistan’s other neighbours, Iran and China, also neighbours of Pakistan, and Pakistan’s neighbour, India, have eliminated polio, and have never accused a neighbour of being responsible. The only other country in the world which still has polio infection, Nigeria, also does not have any neighbours complaining, though there are four of them. Nigeria has moved further than Pakistan and Afghanistan along the path of ridding itself of the scourge of the polio virus, and the WHO has declared that the virus is no longer endemic to the country. Unlike Pakistan, there have been no new cases reported from it since 2014. It seems that Pakistan and Afghanistan are destined to be the last two countries where the poliovirus will still exist in the wild, and where polio could still be caught.
For the elimination of polio from Pakistan needs more than shifting the blame onto someone else. It needs hard work and a clear signal that the Prime Minister himself is concerned about it. There has been no indication so far that this problem has been taken up with Afghanistan, even though this should have been a constant subject in interactions between the two countries, especially since the Prime Minister has the impression that the north-western neighbour is to blame. Even if he did not care before, he should now.