Today is auspicious, for India. Yes it is despite being Friday the 13th.
Today India completed one full year of being Polio free.
It was on January 13, 2011 that the last child with Polio was diagnosed. After that all weekly tests from sewer samples, where polio is generally found, have been coming clear. No cases or samples have been reported positive since then.
WHO states “If the data comes clear over the next few weeks, then India, for the first time will show unshaded in the WHO polio maps.”
It is certainly a moment to rejoice for India, while keeping it’s fingers crossed for some more weeks and a lot extra vigilant for the next few years.
And knowing that it is a country with huge population of 1.2 billion with population as culturally diverse as any diversity, this is indeed a matter of great pride. It is a moment that one does not get to witness in history very often. Last when India along with the whole world witnessed something similar was in 1975 when Earth was declared Small Pox free.
“It’s not a miracle — it’s good science and an awful lot of elbow grease.” says Dr Bruce Aylward, the assistant director general of Polio, WHO.
Certainly being a huge bunch of a multi cultural, multilingual diaspora that India is, along with poverty, ignorance and myths against Polio vaccines it certain must have been a mammoth task to even dream and then realise that dream of a Polio-free India.
Poliomyelitis is a viral disease which attacks the nerve cells in the spinal cord which leads to the paralysis usually of a lower limb or leg. It cripples the children at a very young age. It is mostly spread by direct person to person contact, through the feco-oral route i.e. through phlegm, through the infected mucus or phlegm from nose, mouth or through infected feces. Once affected, however there is no treatment of the disease. Polio immunization through vaccine either as oral drops or injections is the only way to prevent it.
Why do I write all this? Is it to show off my Indian connection?
No certainly not, but to let us Pakistanis know that after today, or maybe in a few weeks more, after India officially says quits, only three countries shall remain ‘Polio endemic’ -Afghanistan, Nigeria and our own Pakistan.
Yes it really hurts that what India has achieved for it’s 1.2 billion, Pakistan could not achieve for it’s 180 million. It hurts that Sudan could do it, Myanmar could do it, but Pakistan could not.
It hurts even more to know that 194 cases were reported in Pakistan in 2011. Two of them were just confirmed today one from KhyberPakhtunkhwa and another from Sindh, sadly.
Most of the areas affected are the conflict zones where there is rampant poverty, ignorance and ill health.
National Emergency Action Plan, 2011 for Polio Eradication was launched by the Federal Ministry of Health. (http://www.polioeradication.org/Portals/0/Document/InfectedCountries/Pakistan/PakistanStrategy/NationalEmergencyActionPlan.pdf)
The executive summary of the document said and I quote:“Poliovirus is continuing to cripple children in Pakistan because of the failure to reach all children with sufficient doses of vaccine. The reasons for this include inadequate Government oversight and ownership, access problems due to security particularly in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), operational and planning challenges, and the failure to identify and i nclude all high risk underserved population groups.”
Next it states: “the President of Pakistan has directed the immediate development of an emergency action plan for polio eradication in Pakistan.”
And that the Armed Forces have also been pretty active in some of the unreachable areas, by helping the government in making the vaccination of children with polio drops possible.
I hope all these efforts, both by the government and the armed forces, are able to trickle down till the last beneficiary and that a genuine change on ground is visible.
One can only wait to see if the claims that 2012 will show a decrease in the Polio cases in Pakistan.
The same report also mentions that along with India even Nigeria too has the potential to eradicate Polio in near future.
Further reading from the report shudders my soul: “This would leave Pakistan as the single largest threat to global polio eradication, and isolate the country in a world that wants to protect its citizens from the last remaining reservoir of wild poliovirus.”
After reading this, with a depressed mind within a dizzy head, I appeal to all the powerful and mighty in Pakistan to please rise above wrangling and infighting and please pay attention to the poor masses of Pakistan, who have been long ignored in this battle of egos.