Polio vaccination fatwa by militants in N Waziristan to put thousands of children at risk
Peshawar, June 20 (ANI): Over 16,000 children below the age of five will miss their polio vaccines in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal region, following a ban announced by a powerful local warlord on vaccination campaigns in the region.
Hafiz Gul Bahadur, the alleged host of the deadly Haqqani network of Afghan Taliban, announced the ban on the vaccination drive, which they believe, was a cover for U.S. spies, reports The Express Tribune.
The move will have a serious impact on polio eradication efforts in Pakistan, which is among the three countries where polio is still prevelant, with 197 fresh cases reported last year, states the paper.
Health officials believe that the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) has become the reservoir of the disease because of its difficult terrain and reservations of local tribesmen about the vaccine.
Shahibzada Khalid, deputy director of Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) FATA cell, categorised North Waziristan as a 'high-risk' area and said that if the ongoing vaccination drive was not carried out in the region, thousands of children will be at risk.
The virus may also spread to other agencies and neighbouring districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, he added.
Health officials, however, believe they might find a way out of the dilemma.
All stakeholders, including the government, World Health Organisation, NRDF and UNICEF are trying to find a safe way to vaccinate children in North Waziristan, said Dr Muhammad Azam, the focal person for the FATA polio monitoring cell.
So far this year, 22 fresh polio cases have been confirmed in the country- nine in Khyber Agency and one each in North and South Waziristan agencies.
In March this year, the WHO had warned that if the polio virus was not contained, Pakistan could face serious consequences, including travel and visa restrictions, from the international community. (ANI)