No one from the government can keep the opposition from politicising death and disease stemming from dengue, especially when the figure of those testing positive has touched the five digit mark. Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Health, Dr Zafar Mirza, who shared the figure with the media with the warning that the number will go up next week, has snubbed politicians for raising the issue for ‘point scoring’. Why would the opposition not exploit poor public health policies when at least 10,013 dengue cases have been reported across the country? Let’s not forget that the SAPM himself is banking on a decrease in mercury as the most effective measure for dengue control, not active surveillance and pest control to cull the vector borne disease.
Dengue is not new to this region. This year, 2,363 cases have been reported in Punjab, 2,258 in Sindh, 1,814 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 1,772 in Balochistan. True, dengue cases used to number more in previous years but in those times the government knew that without public participation, the mosquito-borne virus would not be eliminated. Media reports will vouch for the fact that in those years, the opposition especially PTI, would regularly mock the government for its inability to ‘control something as small as a mosquito’. Reminding the incumbent ruling party of its past jibes, the Pakistan Muslim League-N has demanded resignation from the government over dengue control failure.
The government awoke late to this dengue danger. This year, excessive rains and moderate temperatures provided the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. Dengue started showing signs of striking in July and August but the government responded to compelling signs with a tepid response. The detection and eradication of larva, public awareness campaigns and fumigation would have made the difference. Now, when the disease has been upgraded to an epidemic, the government has started taking action. In this regard, the deputy commissioner of Lahore became the first causality of dengue failure. Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar should take interest in other parts of the province as well and make more examples out of negligent officials. Similar punitive actions have yet to be reported from other parts of Pakistan. Provinces should work under a well-connected mechanism to fight the virus. Patients should be provided free facilities at public hospitals. Meanwhile, the opposition should keep pressing the government for effective public health measures. *
Best bet in the long run
It may have missed the height of the tourist season, but the first ever Khunjerab Highest Altitude Road Marathon attracted a good number of participants – both local and foreign – showcasing the beautiful landscape and lush green race route to the world. The Pakistan Air Force, which arranged the marathon, said in a press release, “It was a momentous occasion in the history of Pakistan as 154 ecstatic long distance runners from across the world enthusiastically ran on the descending Karakoram Highway, starting from the magnificent Khunjerab Top and ending at Sust, a small town in the majestic pass”. In all, 39 athletes from 17 countries and 119 from Pakistan ran the route at 4,693 metres above sea level. The 50 kilometers race was won by Mohammad Siyar from Pak Army while Aslam Khan from GB Scouts finished second. The 42km race was won by the army’s athletics team of Umair Haider, Mohammad Faheem and Sohail Tanveer; the top three runners of the 21km race were Mirza Aslam Baig, Abdul Muheet and Musawwarur Rehman.
PAF deserves applause for arranging the event and inviting the world to these uncharted peaks of Pakistan for healthy activities. Earlier, in January last, the PAF gathered 38 skiers from 12 countries in Gilgit’s Naltar ski resort in Chief of the Air Staff International Karakoram Alpine Ski Cup. This was the first time the picturesque resort witnesses an international activity. The high-ranking international event unlocked Pakistan’s potential for winter sports as skiers from Greece, Afghanistan, Turkey, Ukraine, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Belgium, Morocco, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan and Tajikistan spoke highly of the resort and facilities. Other than skiing, the region has hosted events such as snowboarding, ice-skating and ice hockey.
These events will go a long way in promoting regional sports tourism. More revenue can be generated if more such events, with better facilities, are arranged in the Gilgit-Baltistan region. Of the facilities, the most important is law and order. Earlier, the region’s economy – tourism – was badly hit when militants attacked the Malam Jabba ski resort. Now, when terrorism has become a thing of the past, the government must renew its efforts to boost tourism, sports and economic activities in the northern parts of Pakistan. The facility of visa on arrival to several countries and abolition of a mandatory no-objection certificate for tourists are welcome developments.
Such sports activities as well as tourism friendly policies will not only draw tourists in droves but also promote a soft image of the country. *