It was the land from my vision, people like I have been imagining in English novels and admiring in the Hollywood movies.
The litter-free wide streets, amazing skyscrapers, and cozy restaurants I’d always dreamt of seeing in reality.
It was all like a dream-come-true situation when I came out of Washington’s Dulles International Airport a month ago to participate in the fellowship program in the US.
I was in the US after going through lengthy documentation and tiring travel procedures, and was extremely excited about my posting at the Huffington Post, and had already started planning my return.
As the van carrying 20 fellows weaved through Washington’s light traffic, a thought struck me and all the excitement and happiness vanished in a jiffy! “Will I ever be able to come here again or will it prove to be my maiden and the last visit to the United States?”
The thought actually emanated from my concerns about potential World Health Organisation (WHO) travel restrictions on Pakistan given if it failed to contain the spread of polio disease.
Being a journalist, I was very well aware of the fact that no country is going to stop issuing visas to Pakistanis instead Islamabad may face some travel restriction for short time period.
Then, what was there to worry about? Yes, there was something! As a journalist, I have always seen issues ranging from energy crisis to deteriorating law and order being aggravated.
And if people at the helm of affairs let the issue of polio virus linger on and allow the epidemic spread across the globe due to their apathy which they have also shown towards other issues, then there is definitely something to worry about for those wishing to travel abroad, especially to the developed countries for studies, business, cultural exchanges or anything else.
The international community is not going to show any generosity and one day, God forbid, Pakistanis might be banned from traveling abroad if the rulers will not awake from their deep slumber.
News of imposing travel ban on Pakistan were making rounds when I was preparing to leave for Washington as polio cases didn’t cease to appear and now finally here comes the announcement that I was dreading for the past many weeks since the crippling disease of polio started to intensify in some regions of the country, mostly the tribal areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where militants have remained successful in suspending the
anti-polio campaigns by attacking the vaccine administering teams and killing many poor and committed workers throughout Pakistan for their ‘unforgivable sin’ of administering polio drops to children.
The WHO on Monday recommended six-month-long international travel restrictions on Pakistan, one of the three countries seen as “posing the greatest risk of further wild poliovirus exportations in 2014”.
The restrictions have been imposed on the recommendations of the emergency committee of the WHO.
According to a report, the government will now have to ensure, with immediate effect, that all residents and long-term visitors receive a dose of oral polio vaccine (OPV) or inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) between four weeks and 12 months prior to international travel.
I will not go into further details about the restrictions as newspapers have carried enough stories on the issue but they will not only add to the burden of the documentation that the travelers have to accomplish before traveling abroad, but the country will face even bigger challenge of eradicating the disease to avoid any ban in future along with encouraging the international community to travel to the country for business or any other purpose that encourages cultural exchanges.
Not only Pakistan has so far been unable to eradicate the disease, it has been the source of transmission of the polio virus to many other countries like China, Syira and Afghanistan despite the relentless sacrifices rendered by the polio workers in terrorism-hit country and their resilience in uprooting the menace.
Besides terrorism, another factor which is believed to be a great impediment in the way of polio eradication is public skepticism about the polio vaccine. Local media has long reported that people refuse to get their children administered polio vaccine due to some conspiracy theories.
However, Dr Hamid Jafari, Director of the World Health Organization’s Global Polio Eradication Initiative, said in an interview to Newsweek last month that the national rate of refusal is less than 0.5 percent.
His words might ruffle our feathers as we are in national habit of blaming the US and other factors for our national failures and inability to cope with the crucial issues.
Should we again blame some foreign forces for our latest national failure or attribute it to the callousness and apathy of our leaders who failed to address the issue on time or to the terrorists who succeeded in pursuing their agenda of paralyzing the entire country economically and socially by attacking the anti-polio workers or to the national media for not paying the adequate attention and remaining busy in mud slinging against their competitors over non-issues?
Whoever is responsible, the issue at hand could have far reaching effects on the country and it should be the top priority of the incumbent government to get rid of the disease through mobilizing all the resources.
I hope the ruling elite does not turn a blind eye to this pressing issue as it will not be the common man to suffer the worst consequences this time around instead the restrictions will make things more difficult for the ruling elites who feel forced by habit to embark on foreign tours every now and then.