Uphill task - GulfToday

Uphill task

Uphill task

The world needs to put up a unified effort to combat polio.

It is very encouraging to know that global leaders are uniting strongly in the fight against polio with the ultimate aim of eradicating it completely (“Global leaders pledge $6.2b to eradicate polio,” Nov.20, Gulf Today).

Spread through contaminated food and water, polio is a crippling and infectious disease that primarily affects children under five. Though it is controlled to a very large extent globally, the eradication of the malady hinges on the support and engagement at all levels by individuals, communities, local and national governments and donors.

And that is why a commitment like this is crucial. Of course to reach a stage where no child lives in fear of polio, the strategies aimed at vaccinating children need to be fully implemented. And that is where the agencies seem to be hitting a major roadblock.

As the report highlights, inconsistent campaign quality, insecurity, conflict, massive mobile populations, and, in some instances, parental refusal to the vaccine has led to ongoing transmission of the wild poliovirus in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Further, low immunity to the virus in parts of Africa and Asia where not all children are vaccinated has sparked outbreaks of a rare form of the virus.

That being the case it may take a couple of years for polio to be wiped out completely. But I feel there is one area which can and needs to be dealt with sternly. And that is parental refusal. Take the case of Pakistan.

The anti-vaccine movement is at the root of the reemergence of the disease in the country. It was almost but wiped out until recently when parents refused to get their wards vaccinated based on unsubstantiated rumours fuelled by social media.

Early this year, reports stated that over 2 million Pakistani families had refused immunisations after news channels stated that children had fallen ill after a vaccination drive at a school in Peshawar. Though none of the children needed hospitalisation, parents stuck to their ground which is strongly rooted in suspicion to modern medicine. Illiteracy ranks high in Pakistan, so we could give it some leeway. But a similar mindset led to the spreading of measles in the so called advanced US.

Government and health authorities need to act against such flawed behaviour. We cannot let others put our children in danger.

Ricardo Paes
By email