Treatable Diseases Are Surging In Pakistan As Aid Workers Continue To Be Attacked

Pakistani girl receives vaccination

Preventable diseases like measles and polio are on the upswing in Pakistan after years of decline, mainly due to growing wariness of vaccines — or, more specifically, wariness of the programs and people that administer those vaccines.

In a continuation of violence in December that saw the murder of six aid workers on the streets of Pakistan’s cities, another seven civilians have been killed since the start of 2013. All but one of those killed on Jan. 1 were female, continuing a disturbing trend of gender disparity in those targeted. All seven of the most recent victims, five teachers and two health providers, were Pakistani nationals working at a community center providing health and education services in remote northern Pakistan.

These attacks are taking a toll on the health and well-being of Pakistan’s children, with easily treatable diseases making a pronounced comeback. Measles in particular has seen an amazing surge. According to the World Health (WHO) the number of measles cases in Pakistan has surged from 4,000 in 2011 to 14,000 in 2012. 306 died of the disease in 2012, compared to only 64 in 2011. The increase has prompted the WHO to launch an emergency vaccination campaign in the Sindh state, where the outbreak has been particularly severe.

In an interview with al Jazeera, Dr. Zulfiqar Ahmed Bhutta, a child health expert said that the outbreak could have easily been foreseen:

“This was a tragedy that was waiting to happen. We have been predicting for a while now that without adequate cover with routine immunisation in many parts of Pakistan, notably in rural populations, that there was bound to be a situation where you would have an outbreak like this …. So what we are seeing this year is an absolute reflection of dropping the ball in covering an adequate cohort of children in rural and poor populations of Pakistan, particularly in the south, against a completely preventable disorder like measles.

A large part of the opposition to vaccine campaigns can be traced back to the United States’ decision to use one as cover for obtaining proof that Osama bin Laden was living within the Pakistani city of Abottabod. In the months and years since, aid workers in Pakistan have faced growing violence while attempting to inoculate those most vulnerable from diseases that have long since been wiped out in other countries.