In January 2012, India was declared to have not reported a single case of Polio for over a year. Knowing its vast area, huge population, diverse terrain and socio economic disparity, to have achieved this was a mammoth achievement. My joy of the news was terminated, before it began, when I realised how far Pakistan was from this goal, especially after 173 cases being diagnosed in the past year , and a few almost recently. My heart shuddered to question, “How long would this take Pakistan to reach that goal of being Polio free?”
However June 2012 and early July brought forth a new wave of hope, when the UNICEF’s Regional Director, Karin Hulshoff, wrote in a newspaper of her excitement and optimism with which the work of Polio eradication was progressing in Pakistan. According to a report by a scientific group, there were only 22 cases in the past six months as compared to 58 the same time last year. Owing to the introduction of a new bivalent vaccine, there have been better results, with Pakistan approaching the hopeful day of eradication faster. She stressed that now more emphasis should be given to the coverage of missed cases, or those never vaccinated earlier. “Even one child missed is a lost opportunity to eradicate polio from Pakistan forever”. Hence to not miss any case, the program was geared up everywhere and in the FATA too.
The same time was the case of Dr Afridi for spying came to light. It is sad, media also misreported, and many among the common masses still believe that Dr Afridi was associated with Polio campaign, though the truth remains that he was collecting samples for the hepatitis C virus.
The coincidental increase in the activities of Polio campaign to speed up the Polio eradication, and Dr Afridi’s spying mission led many to misunderstand that there was some conspiracy against the tribal region, through Polio vaccination. There could be no two opinions about abusing the trust of the people on health workers for one’s vested interests. It is extremely deplorable. But should one or more such Dr Afridis succeed in putting the health of 240,000 innocent children at risk?
How about the tribal elders instead, recruit their own trusted workers to give the two drops of Polio to their innocent kids and secure not just the future of kids, but also their own reputation as being concerned and caring for the humanity?
However, the ban by the tribal elders for the July16-18 Polio drive was to ask for a total stop of drones. Drones are a tragedy, and are inhuman, especially the loss of innocent lives of children are deplorable, but to use one’s own children as a first line of defence, and deprive them of their right to be safe from a crippling disease, is as unfortunate. I wish the tribal elders who are genuinely concerned about the lives of their common people killed by drones, understood, if their community stays burdened with ill health, they shall be unable to defend themselves either from extremism or any outside aggression, but also get more isolated in the international community.
Can there be no stronger, yet humanitarian ways to protest for stopping of drones, which does not tarnish the image of the tribal men and women?
Shahid Afridi’s inclusion into the Polio campaign is a welcome, and rekindles the hope to see the dream of a Polio free Pakistan come true, sooner than I had feared. Shahid Afridi has stood up for a great service to his own tribal children. He is a true hero and a true humanist; who has roots from the tribal area. In a tweet he remarked:
Afridi vs Polio @AfridivsPolio
#Pakistan is my country and to #SpeakUpAgainstPolioBan is my duty.
At the same time it is hurting to see people of tribal areas being ridiculed ( though rightly so) internationally for their decision
“Oh yes, I see it, polio vaccines for kids and drone attacks, there is a close relation. CRAZY! #speakupagainstpolioban.”
Or see the decision as illogical:
“Its like cutting your own hand as your protest against a theft, or lashing yourself against the fornication by a foe.”
Another tweep saw how the decision is ultimately going in favour of the aggressors who are being protested against:
They are killing children through drone attacks and these people are trying to make their children crippled for life. It is fulfilment of aggressor’s interests both ways.
Children from the tribal areas are as dear to us as anywhere else in Pakistan. We dream of seeing them Polio free too, and be healthy in every way. We are equally hurt at the drones attacks on the innocent.
I repeat, there can be innumerable stronger ways of protest to make international community notice the aggression and causalities caused by drones, instead of making innocent humanity, whether by killing the health personnel or innocent human beings, or depriving the children of Polio vaccine, a symbol of their protest. This simply leads to tragic loss of credibility and lack of sympathy from the international community. The image of the fellow Pakistanis living in tribal areas, including their elders being tarnished by such decisions hurts, because we know they are as human as any one of us, in Pakistan.
At the same time politicians across the board, remain criminally silent to the issue. Even the kids are not spared now, from being used as bait for political agendas.
However, I insist I still dream for a Polio free Pakistan from Karachi to FATA.