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Afridi bowls against polio

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By Anita Joshua

“Boom-Boom Afridi” has been brought in by Pakistan to “bowl” out polio in what it hopes is the decisive over of the seemingly hopeless match against the virus. The mercurial cricketer — who is already a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime — signed up as Polio Champion last weekend; kicking off an advertisement campaign featuring him asking people in Urdu and Pashto whether they wanted to hand their children a cricket bat or crutches.

In a cricket-crazy nation, picking up Afridi for the task had more to do with his background. He hails from the Khyber Agency in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and is a Pashtun by ethnicity. Pashtuns accounted for 77 per cent of all the polio cases reported in Pakistan last year though this ethnic group constitutes only 15 per cent of the country’s population.

Pakistan, along with Nigeria and Afghanistan, are the last three countries reporting polio cases. In fact, Pakistan — which had brought the incidence of polio to 30 in 2005 — saw a quantum leap to 198 cases in 2011. Apart from battling deep-seated apprehensions about the polio immunisation programme, Pakistan has to reckon with unsafe working conditions as the Taliban have issued diktats against the campaign. Plus the internal displacement owing to the security situation has resulted in the virus travelling with the internally displaced people.

Still, according to official records, the immunisation programme is making headway as in the first half of 2012, only 22 confirmed cases of polio were reported from 13 districts across the country. This is an improvement over the 58 cases reported from 24 districts between January and June 2011.

Afridi has promised to bring his aggressive “all or nothing” approach to the campaign; using his standing and religious convictions to help walk the last mile in the bid to make Pakistan polio-free.

(Courtesy: The Hindu)
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