World health body eyes Pakistan anti-polio drive

Exodus from violence-stricken Pakistani region provide golden opportunity to vaccinate 150,000 children against polio, say health officials.

World health body eyes Pakistan anti-polio drive

World Bulletin / News Desk

As 150,000 children from Pakistan's restive North Waziristan continue to suffer hunger and disease amid an ongoing military operation against the Taliban, World Health Organization officials say the situation provides an opportunity to vaccinate them against polio.

With Pakistan being one of the only three countries after war-torn Afghanistan and Nigeria where polio remains endemic, North Waziristan is its worst-hit region, with 63 out of 82 polio cases being reported to date in 2014.

More than 400,000 residents have been displaced from the region, but the global health organization views the exodus as a golden opportunity to vaccinate against the disease, which would usually not be possible because of a ban against the health intervention enforced by the Taliban.

Dr Zubair Mufti, Pakistan's anti-polio program coordinator for the UN health body, said Monday: "The children of North Waziristan have not been vaccinated.

"It’s high time government agencies took advantage of this situation and worked to vaccinate these 150,000 children."

However, he said he did not consider the task to be without difficulty.

"Children need to be vaccinated in four steps, which is not an easy task because a large number of displaced persons are not living in shelter camps," he said.

It is hard to locate children lodged in different areas and vaccinate them in the four stages necessary under the program, he added.

However, health experts say the bulk of displaced people are residing in three districts adjoining North Waziristan, which would make the task much easier.

Anti-polio vaccinators have been prevented from reaching various tribal areas following a ban imposed by the Taliban after a fake vaccination campaign was launched by local CIA agent Dr Shakil Afridi as a cover to track down slain al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in the garrison city of Abbottabad in 2011.

Tribal groups also fear vaccinations could be used by foreign forces as a means to sterilize Muslim children.

Authorities say the ban imposed by rebel groups may affect more than 163,000 children below the age of five in the tribal region.

The polio virus affects 10 countries around the world.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 23 Haziran 2014, 15:50