Pakistan has sat on the cusp of eradicating polio for the last two years. Polio vaccinators continue to be killed as do doctors associated with the programme and now there may be a new villain coming into play — President Donald Trump. Mistrust of America is widespread in Pakistan and not without good reason. Drone strikes — though far fewer of late — and the notorious instance where the CIA set up a fake hepatitis vaccination campaign in 2011 in an attempt to gather evidence of the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, feed this mistrust. Then there are the persistent folk-myths usually supported by reports in less-than-responsible print media that the vaccines — manufactured in the west — are contaminated with alcohol or pork products. They are not and never have been but once such a perception is planted in the public mind it is extremely difficult to dislodge.
How President Trump enters the frame is in the concern that he may make good on his more belligerent threats thus further deepening the well of antipathy. Tribal leaders — and some extremist sympathisers in the cities — will seize on any action the Americans may take whether it be sanctions or more direct action and weave it into the polio conspiracy narrative. Pakistan is so close to polio eradication — there were 20 cases in 2016 — that it is truly achievable, yet the last mile is proving the hardest. The disease is eminently preventable as its eradication in all but Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria has shown. There have been no cases of polio in the developed world for decades.
Researchers note that there is a clear correlation between support for Islamist groups and an uptick in those refusing vaccination for their children. Pakistan already had a high latency for the tolerance of extremist views, and it is no stretch to see that such latency could be exploited by those that wished ill to the polio immunisation campaign. There are almost 250,000 polio workers targeting 38 million children. A tiny minority of that number will refuse vaccination and in doing so keep polio alive. The vaccinators have our wholehearted support.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 1st, 2017.
Source: Tribune News
Original Post: Nearly but not quite