A mammoth task: Stigma of Polio continues to haunt Pakistan




Bill Gates said Wednesday that “with any luck” polio will be eradicated by 2017 in the last two countries where it remains active, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Microsoft founder, who has donated billions to fight global diseases, was speaking in Doha at the official announcement of a $50 million donation from Qatar to “The Lives and Livelihood Fund”. This is a partnership fund between the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Islamic Development Bank (IDB), who together have been working to try to eradicate diseases, including polio, since 2012. “There’s very few cases left, just two countries at this point, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and with any luck either this year or next year we will have the last cases of those,” Gates said. Pakistan has already made it an official target to rid the country of polio — an infectious viral disease resulting in muscle damage — in 2016 though there have already been eight recorded cases so far this year. Given that refusals to let the vaccine be administered to children had been allowed to grow into such a significant problem, Pakistan felt it necessary to take the harsh step of making such responses an offence deserving of arrest. Meanwhile, last August, the country put the injectable polio vaccine on its routine immunisation schedule. The first phase of the IPV drive has already been concluded in a few districts of Balochistan. And on Wednesday, the second phase of the drive was launched in 18 union councils of Balochistan’s high-risk Killa Abdullah district, aiming to reach over 16,000 children. To be sure, there are some advantages to the IPV. For one thing, it carries an inactive virus which means that there is no danger of the recipient contracting the vaccine-acquired polio paralysis (no matter how fractional the incidence of VAPP may be). Second, it needs to be administered only once, removing the hurdle of the OPV that is given in phased follow-up doses that require each child to be vaccinated several times. This should be balanced, though, with the negatives, one being that the injection must be administered by a paramedic (as opposed to an untrained volunteer). Given that the state has put its weight behind the IPV, we can only hope that time will produce encouraging results. Also on Wednesday, Bill Gates — whose foundation has donated billions to fighting polio as well as other diseases — said at a moot in Doha that “with any luck”, polio would be eradicated in Pakistan and Afghanistan by 2017. Though the ground realities dictate a measure of cynicism, we hope that his prediction will prove correct.