News editors, script editors, journalists, columnists and anchors were invited to the Media Round Table discussion at Movenpick on April 7. The discussion was moderated by a panel which was hosted by Dr. Muhammad Usman Chachar, Coordinator of EOC Sindh and moderated by seasoned journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai.
At first, Rahimullah Yusufzai initiated the discussion by giving a brief background on polio and how Pakistan remains one of the only two countries in which cases of polio are still being reported.
“Polio is an endemic which used to exist in various countries over the world before 1988,” he said. “However, the situation has much deteriorated in Asia, where after 1988 only Pakistan and Afghanistan remain the two countries where polio cases are still being reported,” he said. “Up until last year, polio cases were also being reported in Nigeria, however, they have thwarted the disease and are no more included in the list of countries where polio exists.”
Dr. Muhammad Chachar also spoke and highlighted how media coverage can both be positive and negative as well.
“Let me be clear. By negative media we do not mean the incident does not get reported in a bad light. Reporters tend to do their job often as how they see it rather than wait for the facts. For example, many times parents claim that their children suffer from polio since they may exhibit certain symptoms of it. However, this is not the case but the channel reports it,” he said.
UNICEF Sindh’s Media Officer Abid Hussain also said that there was a particular process through which a polio case was confirmed.
“A polio case is confirmed only after samples are sent to the National Institute of Health in Islamabad. Upon their confirmation, a polio case is then reported,” he said.
Documentary filmmaker and journalist Ovais Mangalvala also spoke on the occasion and said that in order to raise the awareness of polio, a 360 degree campaign to highlight the importance of vaccination from the disease was needed. “People need to be bombarded with billboards and other mediums of advertisements to sensitize people towards polio,” he said.
In response to a question posed by a freelance journalist, Rahimullah Yousafzai said that polio was indeed common among the Pashtun folk but this was due to reasons other than any ethnic bias.
“Yes, polio is common among Pashtun people but it is due to several factors. For one, Pashtun are the people who have suffered the most in both countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan. I would say they have been the most underserved community and we have failed them. They have been affected the most by conflict and wars. Also, for two years, vaccination was not possible since it was banned by the Taliban.”
Media personalities belonging to theatre and acting professions also voiced the desire to sensitize the masses to the menace of polio through dramas, plays and other mediums which highlighted this social aspect. It was also suggested that polio workers who work for Rs. 250-500 per day among the sweltering heat should be granted more coverage and there was need for more encouragement for them.