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EditorialAttacks on polio teams

Attacks on polio teams

In the previous week, two policemen guarding polio teams in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were martyred and another was injured. Constable Nazir Khan, who was assigned to guard polio teams at the Basic Health Unit (BHU) in Tank district near Dera Ismail Khan, was ambushed outside the health facility. Havaldar Iqbal was martyred on Saturday when gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire in the Chardar area. This attack’s responsibility was claimed by the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan. Meanwhile, in Lakki Marwat district a cop was injured while guarding polio teams.

In all three cases, the attackers have not been caught. Attacks on polio teams have been a common practice for a long time only in this part of the world. Over the years, not much has changed and polio workers will keep sacrificing their lives given the mindset prevailing in this situation. If the governments of the day keep negotiating with terrorists this may go on for an indefinite amount of time. It is unfortunate that polio workers trek uncharted, unfrequented paths to reach every doorstep to protect children from the crippling virus, but the government has to deploy police personnel for the protection of polio teams. They are quite successful in their jobs; however, they end up on the losing side when they have to bear the brunt of these attacks. Several policemen have been martyred over the years in these attacks and although many may argue that this risk comes with the job, this is not normal practice around the world. Only in Pakistan do health workers get attacked so often for providing a service that will save thousands of children from an illness that has been eradicated from the world but remains in Pakistan due to such attacks.

Polio eradication is crucial for Pakistan since there is no excuse left to keep children unvaccinated against this illness. Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only countries with polio cases in the world. This is a good sign that in 2021, no polio case was reported. If the next three weeks go without any case, it means Pakistan will have a year without a polio case. But that does not stop the process of vaccination. The state must deal with terrorist organizations that attack these teams as several health workers and police personnel have lost their lives while providing this service. These people do not deserve such treatment and if they are not protected against such attacks there may be none left to provide these important services.

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