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Pakistan resumes polio vaccinations under tight security

PTI Peshawar | Updated on March 12, 2018

Pakistan Government officials today said they were providing paramilitary and police support to polio vaccinations which are being resumed discreetly in the northwest after a series of attacks on medical workers.

UN agencies suspended work on a nationwide campaign to inoculate children against the highly-infectious disease after nine health workers were murdered in a string of attacks in the northwest and Karachi in December.

Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world where polio is endemic, but efforts to stamp out the disease have been hampered by resistance from the Taliban, who have banned vaccination teams from some areas. Another factor foiling the efforts is distrust — rumours about the vaccine being a plot to sterilise Muslims have long dogged efforts to tackle the disease in Pakistan.

On Tuesday, six women and a man working for a charity involved in polio vaccinations were shot dead in the northwestern district of Swabi.

A senior Government official said instead of starting another nationwide campaign, authorities had decided to inoculate children in phases, in a low-key manner with adequate security arrangements.

“We had to launch a campaign from January 14, but were not given security clearance, so we reviewed the schedule and modified our policy to do it in phases starting from high-risk districts,” Dr Janbaz Afridi, head of polio eradication in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, told AFP.

“The inoculation teams can now go into selected areas with adequate security at any suitable time instead of a province-wide campaign,” he added.

Polio cases in Pakistan have risen sharply in recent years, hitting 198 in 2011 — the highest figure for more than a decade and the most for any country in the world last year, according to the World Health Organisation.

Suspicion of vaccination programmes intensified after the jailing of a doctor who helped the CIA find Osama bin Laden in 2011 using a hepatitis campaign.

An administration official in the city of Peshawar said that motorcycles would be banned in an effort to avert drive-by shootings in areas where the campaign will try to vaccinate 7,77,000 children from tomorrow.

A senior administration official in the northwestern district of Charsada, said: “Small teams of four to five health workers with two policemen and two FC (paramilitary Frontier Corps) personnel will give polio drops.”

Published on January 05, 2013

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