Daily Times Editorial 9 Editorial 2019

Fight against polio


The polio programme of Pakistan has largely stayed clear of administrative or financial irregularities since its inception two decades ago. All vaccination drives have been executed vigilantly, refusal cases pursued diligently and confirmed polio cases made public transparently. In fact, transparency has been the hallmark of the programme, winning the confidence of international donors. Recently, the Guardian published a damning report accusing the Pakistani officials of “covering up an outbreak of the most dangerous strain of polio and planning a covert vaccination programme to contain the disease”. The report, which the news website unusually referred to a source, says the P2 strain infected a dozen children, which the officials failed to make public. The resurgence of the P2 strain in the country, which had earlier been eliminated from Pakistan in 2014, has alarmed the international donors. The prime minister’s focal representative on polio eradication, Babar Bin Atta, has been accused of hiding the news from the government as well as donors. Last month the focal person, who otherwise was vigorously running the anti-polio campaigns, resigned from the office citing family reasons. According to the report, the P2 strain struck Diamer district, with one case in Islamabad. Polio has three strands – P1, P2, and P3 – and of them, the P2 strain is regarded as the most contagious and most vicious in its impact on those infected.
Once the Guardian report was published, Prime Minister’s Adviser on Health Dr Zafar Mirza sprang into action and announced confirmation of the deadly strain, saying that they were just in the process of confirmation of the reports. In a tweet, he justified sitting on the report: “Before we proceeded there was a need for a full genomic sequencing to determine the cause of the virus. The situation is under control. First response already generated and full-fledged campaign will start on 11th Nov”. Denying any cover-up, he said, “Absolutely no cover-up. Sabin-like type 2 derived virus outbreak in Pakistan is vigilantly being monitored and appropriately responded. Such outbreaks are being reported from countries even after Polio eradication e.g. Nigeria, China, Indonesia, Congo.”
Now, when the onslaught of the P2 strain has been confirmed, a few questions beg answers from the government. How will it improve transparency? Similarly, it is imperative for Babar Bin Atta to come forward and explain his position on the accusations of hiding the strain’s outbreak and launching an undercover vaccination drive.
Pakistan’s anti-polio drive has made impressive strides over the years bringing down cases from 18,000 in 1995 to double digits in 2019. With a renewed vigour, we should step forward to make a polio-free Pakistan.


Derogatory remarks against women


Talal Chaudhry has done it before and, given his misogynistic attitude, he will do it again. Our society should condemn and boycott those talk show hosts and media houses which invite such controversial people only for cheap ratings. The firebrand PML-N leader, who was convicted and disqualified for his impulsive contemptuous remarks in 2018, recently sat as a panelist in a TV show. There he tried to outwit another panelist, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf MNA Kanwal Shozab, with his usual sexist and derogatory remarks. His crude remarks have attracted nationwide condemnation; only his party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N, has yet to show any reaction to the incident. Chaudhry and his cohorts have also exhibited their penchant for insulting women inside the parliament. In the latest episode, Chaudhry has been offering even equally distasteful explanations to justify his gendered tiff with the PTI lawmaker. The recent incident occurred on November 4. When asked to let the PTI MNA speak, Chaudhry resorted to misogynistic remarks and even asked her to learn to act like a woman.
A cursory browsing of the virtual world flashes Chaudhry’s previous such remarks, which he made in May last about women politicians, especially Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on Information and Broadcasting Firdous Ashiq Awan. His colleague, Khawaja Asif, also remained in the headlines for the same wrong reasons in 2016, when he passed remarks on then opposition member (now minister for human rights) Shireen Mazari, in parliament. The PML-N lawmaker from Sialkot has refused to apologise or even offer regret. The incident took a sorry turn when women parliamentarians from PML-N refused to support Dr Mazari, while then National Assembly speaker Ayaz Sadiq shamelessly held her guilty of not speaking after the insult was heaped on her.
It seems politicians like Talal Chaudhry and Khawja Asif do not want to let women politicians speak against them. Though politicians all around the world criticise their opponents as per democratic norms, personal remarks or insults are, however, always frowned upon. In our part of the world, passing personal remarks, and even abuses, about opponents has become a new normal. One can see many abusive remarks on social media about politicians. Prime Minister Imran Khan and his party are equally responsible for name calling and insulting opponents.
As a corrective measure, popular media needs to boycott politicians who abuse or insult their opponents and the public needs to vote them out.

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