The best defence against Polio
Sadia N. Qazi
Terrorism is a psychological warfare. Terrorists try to manipulate us and change our behaviour by creating fear, uncertainty, and division in society. (Patrick J. Kennedy)
Information is a powerful weapon and its undeterred use in hybrid warfare is capable to stir up great impacts. The hybrid warfare being so diverse and unconventional is a hard target challenge for any nation to deal with and can create confusion, ignite it into a chaos generating a nationwide crisis and venting into anarchy.
The very recent incident of causing a public reaction through information dissemination was witnessed when the polio vaccination campaign started here on Monday, 22nd April. The polio eradication team administered polio drops in a private school in Mashokhel, KPK which was followed by the Principal of the school making a complaint of few children getting sick after the polio vaccination. Polio eradication team and a doctor catering to the complaint checked the children and declared them okay. By time the parents were informed and the children were taken to the hospital. A Hayatabad medical complex reportedly received 78 children and were checked through taking basic medical tests were found and reported as stable and healthy.
But the incident didn’t stop there and the news of children getting sick from administration of the polio vaccine spread like wildfire and dozens upon dozens rushed to the hospitals bringing their kids for check-ups and emergency handling. In charsada alone around 800 children were hospitalized.
The news spread swiftly and by late resulted in the announcements coming from local Mosques’ loudspeakers to not let their children get polio vaccination and in case their children have already been vaccinated, they must rush as soon as possible to a nearby medical facility for emergency as few children have already lost their lives due to the reaction. These announcements blazed the flames of confusion and from dozens the number of children brought to the hospitals raised to hundreds and reportedly reached to thousands. The doctors managed the frightened children for first aid. Most were released after given treatments to nausea. Their blood and urine samples were tested and most were professed as okay. The health providers reported the frightened children to be going through a psychological reaction to panic rather than any medical condition or reaction to vaccination.
As the rumours spread and the announcements from mosques added fury to the anger, the public reaction stimulated into panic which resulted in mayhem. The angry crowd attacked a health centre in Peshawar. Throwing out stones at the mini hospital the building caught fire and the whole facility was left broken, damaged and burnt. The slogans cried against the provincial health authorities and the aggression was multiplied many folds when broadcasted on media and a wave of anger and disbelief spread through the entire country.
The magnitude of the incident called for an investigation into the matter to sort out the facts. By evening the initial investigation into the matter cascaded the facts that the whole matter was nothing but a hoax. Out of thousands of children brought to the hospital, none had developed any adverse effect symptoms for the vaccine. Few kids were examined and treated for nausea and vomiting though but their underlying cause was something else and not the vaccine itself. Moreover, the stock of vaccines administered in the affected area was tested and found to be satisfactory and not expired at all. Furthermore, the provincial health body of KPK stated that the investigation will flow to the conspirators who staged the panic and created a false alarm to trigger panic in the region.
The whole episode unveiled the dangerous play of hybrid warfare and its appalling effects. With the social media and broadcasting tools surging with technological opportunities, it is even easier to disseminate a fake distress and stage a chaos. The panic and the rush the parents went through were tragic and no parent should have to face such a situation with their children. The fear it conjured, and the agitated protests this fear ignited, left the Basic Health unit destroyed, parents confused and worried and the polio vaccination campaign hampered all over the country.
That is no secret that who benefits with creating such havoc in the country. The anti-state elements who want to de-stabilize Pakistan can go to any extents in acquiring their objectives. It is not the first time that the polio campaign was targeted. Previously there were several incidents where the polio teams were attacked and we lost precious lives in this cause.
Polio or poliomyelitis is an infectious disease which is deadly and causes crippling. Caused by poliovirus, it is also contagious and spreads from person to person and by invading the infected person’s brain or spinal cord causes paralysis. The very nature of the virus as easily transmittable and spreads with person to person contact makes it lethal as one infected person can spread the virus around infecting other persons. Paralysis is the most severe symptom of the virus and causes permanent disability or death.
From 2% to 10% of the poliovirus infected persons die because the virus affects the muscles that help a person breathe. It is usually spread through contaminated water in unhygienic conditions and can also spread with cough or sneeze. It usually affects children under the age of 5. To eradicate polio, vaccination is directed either through inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) and oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV). In Pakistan OPV are administered to children under five in the polio eradication campaigns carried out by the government of Pakistan. In Pakistan, complete polio eradication has not been possible as yet. As per the stats till October 2018, 8 wild polio cases have been reported and environmental samples from 27 districts were reported to be infected.
With 57 environmental detection sites, 260000 frontline workers, 2100 social mobilizers and an overall 95% acceptance of the vaccination, 97% reduction in polio cases have been achieved since 2014.
But this reduction is futile, if 100% eradication is not accomplished because one infected case can pose threat to the several others. An anti-polio resentment has prevailed making it even more challenging for the polio teams to vaccinate the children.
Through social service messages broadcasted, the masses are constantly being educated to not let their children be vulnerable to the deadly virus.
However, the confusion on the matter of vaccination by few has been taken as a vulnerability by the anti-state agents and exploited time & again. Security forces have had to step up and provide defence to the mobile teams operating in various parts of the country.
From bomb blasts and targeted killings of polio teams in the past to the recent spreading of fake news regarding the reaction of the vaccine, it has been netted to the same threat of de-stabilizing Pakistan from within.
With the fast dissemination of the news and the exaggerated narrations and announcements from local mosques, the scheme was crafty, deliberate and successful to mobilize the masses over fake news. The government representatives narrated their resolve to further investigate the matter and uncover the source and facilitators of this hoax.
A day after this incident, the polio team was again attacked and an ASI lost his life while defending the team trying to protect our children against this deadly virus.
And two more cases of polio in children came to surface in KPK after two days of this incident which is alarming and reiterates the resolve that polio eradication is an eminent necessity and calls for a collective exertion to safeguard our children.
This calls for creating a social awareness campaign on multiple levels. Foremost is clearing out confusions the parents have regarding the effectiveness and side-effects of the vaccinations. Secondly the loudspeakers of the mosques must not be used to create havoc and no news must be shared and broadcasted on media before confirming its validity. Thirdly the incident was an act of terrorism; devised, facilitated and executed to stage mayhem.
The timing was crucial as the news of death of Nishwa; a 9-month old baby girl who died with negligence of hospital had just put the whole nation in a state of sorrow and made parents amenable to the fright of getting their children sick with the administration of wrong vaccine.
The investigation agencies must dig out the culprits and matter should be publically prosecuted to make masses aware of their enemies and all political and field facilitators of these terrorists must also be called out and dealt with as per terrorism act.
Any act against the citizens of Pakistan is an act of war and best defence against polio virus is a good offense of vaccination.