Following the announcement of restrictions on Pakistanis travelling abroad by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Minister of State for National Health Services, Saira Afzal Tarar, has blamed the provincial governments for sending fake polio results which exaggerated the success of the immunisation campaign, and ultimately led to the restrictions. Whether the accusations are true or false, it will be revealed soon enough. But first, the good minister needs to be reminded that Pakistan isn’t facing travel restrictions because its provincial governments lie, but due to the presence of polio. Of course, the conventional approach is to point fingers following every failure, but that doesn’t help anyone other than the government.

Is Ms Tarar unaware of the challenges faced by the provincial governments during the polio immunisation campaign? How many health workers have been shot and killed while performing their duties? How strong is the opposition from certain religious quarters against vaccination, which fear that it is a conspiracy hatched by their eternal enemies? Did she, as a well-informed state minister, really believe that the success rate of the campaign stood at 80% or 90%? Anyone aware of the situation will reject the figure at first glance. One wonders why she didn’t.

Now that strains of poliovirus have been detected in sewage networks in Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar to name a few, it is obvious that the problem isn’t only restricted to North Waziristan or Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. If the government is capable of immunising every child in Pakistan, then the anti-polio campaign will prove sufficient. But clearly, that is not the case here. Considering that, solely focusing on vaccination campaigns is perhaps not such a wise thing to do. The level of awareness regarding the virus remains low. Many people do not know that it is a waterborne disease. This is why no efforts have been directed towards improving the poor condition of sanitation systems across the country. Other waterborne diseases have consistently affected the health of the masses, and now polio is threatening to do the same. Sewage networks serve as roads for the virus to move. It travels faster than vaccination teams ever could, and nothing is inaccessible. The only way to disrupt its deadly journey is by cleaning the mess, literally. Maybe polio is something terrifying enough to push the government to finally do something about the sanitation problem. It just seems ridiculous to frantically hand out life jackets without even so much as attempting to fill the hole in the boat.