Only 3 countries in the world, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan, have not been able to stop the spread of polio. With the suspension of polio workers delivering vaccines, we have seen polio spread in Pakistan, with 5 new cases just reported!
Well the most obvious answer is the lack of resources put into our healthcare system. Within our recent budget even, we saw a reduction of money pumped into the healthcare system. However, in recent years, both the government and the army, with outside help, stepped up their game and made an effort to eradicate polio. Unfortunately, resource allocation is not the only reason.
When looking at the regions and people effected by polio or have refused polio vaccines, a trend is noticed. Most of these people live under the poverty line, and have minimal to no education. This makes them more prone to distrust and misinformation.
Most of us remember how Osama Bin Laden was found in a compound within Pakistani boarders. However, what some of us may not remember is how the United States was able to identify him. The CIA asked a local doctor to set up a fake polio center within Abbottabad to identify the relatives of Osama Bin Laden. Ever since then, religious extremists have targeted polio workers, killing and kidnapping them every chance they get. This has made the job of polio workers drastically unsafe.
Furthermore, these religious clerks and extremists feed off the inherit mistrust of the outsiders and paint the polio vaccine as a way to control the population. This is where misinformation plays a massive role. People believe that the medication is not Halal. Or they think it’s “Yahoodi Sazish”, trying to control and sterilize the population of Pakistan. However, this mistrust isn’t just an Anti-West Propaganda.
According to reports, the reason why people distrust these vaccines is because of the lack of resources allocated to other healthcare issues within the country. Refusals were most common and vehement when a lot of emphasis was placed on polio in a context where other health services were neglected. In such circumstances, many parents begin to fear that a vaccination campaign may not be what it seems. A historical precedent of state intervention only when it benefits them has created an environment of distrust of all outsiders, including our own government.
In the long term, alleviating people out of poverty and improving our healthcare system will dramatically increase the trust people have within their government. In the short run, a much bigger crackdown on these religious zealots is needed to ensure the safety of both our citizens and the polio workers who have risk their lives. Moreover, governments’ abroad need to acknowledge the role they have played within building this mistrust, while our own government needs to prioritize healthcare above anything else.