Pakistan’s Continued Failure to Eradicate Polio


Pakistanis often complain about their country being portrayed incorrectly and of needing to change the narrative about Pakistan. What they fail to accept is that narratives are based on some reality. Let us take one example.


There are only two countries in the entire world where polio is still prevalent – Pakistan and Afghanistan. Even African countries that still suffer from poverty have managed to eliminate polio but Pakistan has been unable to do so.


Just recently, one day after the second nationwide polio campaign in 2023, three cases were reported from Bannu, KP. Polio is endemic in seven districts of southern KP, with no case reported from outside the territory since January 2021.


What is the reason?


According to an Editorial in Dawn, Pakistanis need to introspect. “Why does the eradication of this crippling disease remain an elusive dream? Are there sociocultural barriers specific to the region that are obstacles to vaccine administration? Some view vaccination to be a Western plot to ‘sterilise’ people. And vaccine hesitation shot up after 2011 when the US Central Intelligence Agency, with a fake hepatitis vaccination programme, sought to gather intel on Osama bin Laden. A Sindh government bill proposes jailing or fining parents not getting their children inoculated, but many disagree with punishing people. There are other things to consider as well. Are health workers able to access all areas or do pockets go unattended? It must be factored in that these workers are routinely attacked, with TTP militants even sending suicide bombers to deter them. Eradicating polio remains a colossal task, but it is a fight we cannot afford to lose. The stakes are high, and the cost of inaction even higher. It’s time for a multipronged strategy that addresses both internal challenges and cross-border complications. Only then can we hope to fulfil the dream of a polio-free Pakistan.”