Among the unending ‘interesting’ political events that take place in Pakistan every now and then, there are some very vital human issues that generally get buried in all this noise. If we look back to April 20th this year, a severe blow was dealt to the polio vaccination campaign when six policemen were killed in Karachi in the line of duty, while guarding health workers administering polio vaccine to toddlers. Appointing policemen to protect health workers, it self speaks volumes about the sorry state of affairs surrounding Pakistan’s healthcare system today. For a country that already can be spotted at the tail of all human welfare indexes, this is another unfortunate element that makes us feel further miserable among the rest of the world. As per the Polio Eradication Report for the month of April, 2016, Pakistan ranks in the bottom 6 countries that still has the reported presence of polio virus, alongside Afghanistan, Madagascar and Myanmar.

There are some other distractions that a majority of the Pakistani nation is still vehemently occupied with. Most of Pakistan’s media remains heavily invested in political rollercoasters and the acute imbalance between civil-military relationship. This phenomenon is otherwise healthy for a vibrant political culture but is playing a major role in practically blindsiding the public to address one of the very basic human society aspect – primary healthcare.

 Pakistan is one of the isolated few countries where polio virus is still thriving, potentially exposing the future generations to be physically handicapped. It is granted that there is a general decline in the disease observed in certain areas including FATA, after the Pakistani military launched a full-scale operation against the terrorist sanctuaries in the aftermath of Army Public School tragedy in 2014. As a result of the operation, the elements that raise hurdles in the path of the administration of the polio vaccination have been away from the scene for the fear of military operation. Nonetheless, reality stays intact that while the rest of the world had overcome this lethal illness a long time ago, some elements of Pakistani society have hijacked the very idea of its treatment. Instead of quarantining the virus, they choose to quarantine its cure, the polio vaccination. Their lopsided logic termed this vaccine as another Western conspiracy against Pakistani children. Their twisted logic blames this vaccine for a reduced potential of human procreation in the children exposed to it, totally disregarding the fact that Pakistan is already an over populous nation of 200 million and growing at a 'geometric' rate. Given a few more decades, it will be just short of becoming the third largest populated country in the world. Both the vaccinated and the non-vaccinated are already contributing to it vigorously, so there should be no fear that the vaccine can make anyone impotent.

A lot can be blamed on illiteracy in this regard and successive government’s chronic apathy towards educating the general public about this and other vital issues that make a vibrant society. Simply appealing to the public to cooperate with the vaccination campaigns through media announcements or making some religious figure as the iconic-vanguard wouldn't help the cause. The religious fraternity is mostly culpable for spreading confusion in the public as they are the first ones to plant the seed of aggression towards most positive initiatives. As always, they were the first ones who found the wrong within these polio eradication drives, too. They speak one thing in a public, and its opposite when in private gatherings with their followers. The misguided bigots who are killing the poor foot-soldiers of the vaccination campaigns are also inspired by the religious decrees from some of the clerics within the country. They forget – or at least nobody told them – the fact that the very health workers that they are murdering, are trying to save their kids from getting crippled. It should be the common national mission to educate the general public and wash away any misconception that prevails about the vaccination.

In a nutshell, a polio vaccine is nothing but a liquidized doze of dead polio virus. When children are administered with this dose their natural immune system kicks into action and produces antibodies around the deactivated virus. This simple process achieves the objective of immunizing the child’s body towards the said disease by forcing the body to generate an immunity shield. In the future, if these kids get exposed to actual polio virus strains, they will remain safe because their body has already built immunity towards the virus. Thus, the vaccination saves a human being from getting permanently disabled in their lifetime. It is simply a proactive medical process. This simple message can be disseminated to the general public to dispel any mystery that shrouds this type of treatment. However, it is often observed that instead of addressing this root cause a statistical information barrage from various health organizations is released which essentially serves no purpose.

The existence of the polio virus in Pakistan stays alarming. While the rest of the world has been a zero polio zone for a long time now, yet, according to WHO, in Pakistan a child was diagnosed with the disease as recently as on March 22, 2016. Thus another human life has been condemned to misery only because of a lack of persuasion targeted towards the general public and the prevalent dissuasion of the polio vaccination campaign. The level of compounding of ignorance towards this campaign, coupled with illiteracy, yielded the worst results when in Muzaffargarh in 2012, a local cleric declared Jihad against the polio workers and that, too, through the loud speakers of the grand mosque of the town. This resulted in the suspension of the campaign in the area. This case pertains to the 'fully-governed' Pakistan – the situation in FATA and other semi-governed areas, I leave to your imagination.

Instead of bulldozing the polio campaign through the media, the same energy and resources can be used in advancing persuasion techniques by applying rational discourse. People need to be educated by providing examples of the world's largest populations like India and China, where there is universal immunization but it didn't impact their potential to procreate, or other Islamic countries especially Saudi Arabia etc. It may seem to be overemphasizing but imagine the impact on Pakistan if it doesn't become polio free in the near future: it may be unable to quarantine the polio virus, but then the rest of the world would quarantine Pakistan if the government couldn't control this lethal contagious disease.

Another sad aspect of this story is the plight of the poor polio workers who do their extremely hazardous job under tough weather conditions for a paltry payment. More people have been killed trying to administer the polio vaccination, than by the virus itself. The killing of Kaneez Nargis and Farah Gul in Mansehra in the March of 2015 is an example of this unfortunate reality, and, sadly, only one example from hundreds of such cases. As I also said, the wages of the polio workers who perform this precarious job are abysmally low. Although their promised daily wage is stated as Rs.1000 per day (US$9.7), in reality they are just paid Rs.250 (US$2.25).

Above all, there cannot be a stronger testament to the state’s weak control over the country, whereby even basic health shield providers need their own security to guard them from being killed in action, so to speak. It is high time for the Pakistani state to revisit its checklist of priorities. Bigotry is a hard phenomenon to root out swiftly, but any bigotry that is interfering with the delivery of basic healthcare should not be tolerated at all.