26 jul. 2014

Clerics demand accountability as Polio incidence grows


Updated a day ago
Polio vaccine.— File photo
Polio vaccine.— File photo
AN issue that has been over a decade in the making is now reaching critical levels. But not even that troubling reality has prodded the state and society into treating it with the necessary urgency and seriousness of purpose. A substantial period of time has passed since the World Health Organization placed Pakistan on the list of those poised to re-infect the world with polio. The country responded with an outpouring of good intentions from several government and administrative departments. Regrettably, the hollowness of their promises is now in evidence. In addition to the regular discovery of new polio cases in areas such as Karachi and Fata, Thursday saw the virus take crippling effect in Balochistan, too — until this case, Balochistan had held out hope that it would remain the sole polio-free province. The same day, two more children were reported to have fallen victim to the virus in Fata. The steepness of the trajectory of this crippling disease is obvious from the numbers: so far this year, the countrywide tally of polio cases stands at 102; during the same period last year, there were only 21. During 2012, 58 new cases were reported; the following year, this figure stood at 93.
In this context, the statement by a group of clerics in Peshawar on Thursday is of much significance. A gathering of over 100 scholars expressed concern over the issue and demanded accountability of all those who have been associated with the eradication programme since the early ’90s. Some might be tempted to take this as somewhat ironic, given that the campaign to convince people to resist the administration of the vaccine was started by certain mischief-making members of the clergy itself. Nevertheless, the hard fact is that the controversy over polio immunisation has taken on religious hues and, as such, scholars can play a vital role in reversing the trend. Thursday’s gathering paid a well-deserved tribute to the fact that over 7,000 clerics participated in a Unicef-sponsored polio communication programme from 2009 to 2012, as a result of which vaccination refusals reportedly went down in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. That said, Pakistan’s state and society need to recognise that polio is first and foremost an urgent domestic concern, and all stakeholders in the future — be they clerics, politicians or others that possess the power to mould public opinion — are still far from putting in all-out efforts to eradicate the scourge.
Published in Dawn, July 26th, 2014.

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