The first polio vaccination programme of the year is expected to vaccinate 7.2 million youngsters in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa after all 20 polio cases reported last year belonged to this province. For years, polio vaccination teams have gone door to door from Cholistan to the snow-covered highways of the northern territories to battle the paralysing infection – poliovirus. Other than weather and logistics, new impediments have emerged over time, making vaccination efforts increasingly challenging. The immunisation campaign is conducted against the backdrop of rising militancy across the country. During the vaccination operations in 2022, insurgents killed seven police officers and as many health workers. Up to 42,000 cops were deployed for the protection of the vaccination teams during the province’s 16 drives. The teams were attacked violently 14 times. Several workers were killed in the wave of terrorism.The Zarb-i-Azab campaign eliminated terrorist hideouts from tribal districts in 2015, allowing polio teams to gain secured access to the residents. But terrorists keep on bouncing back.
Considering the current surge in terror occurrences, authorities will need to be extra vigilant, involving as many faith and community leaders as possible to ensure optimum coordination. The practice has become contentious over the years due to fabricated social and religious grounds, forcing numerous parents in various regions to resist immunisation. Pakistan is one of only two nations in the world where polio is still endemic, the other being Afghanistan. There is little doubt that successive administrations have fought tirelessly to eradicate the crippling illness, investing billions of dollars in the effort. However, many of the myths about vaccination persist. There are still families that maintain the mistaken assumption that polio drops will render their children sterile, and that vaccination drives are part of a ‘Western plot’. Some families simply refuse because they do not understand how the drops safeguard their children. Another unfortunate episode in the polio vaccine saga is that health staff puts false finger tattoos on children without actually giving the drops. Similarly, the government should use coronavirus-style legislation to deal with parental refusal and propaganda. Poliovirus, like coronavirus, is easily transmitted. Both lethal infections