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Pakistan’s Polio Problem

by AFP
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Farooq Naeem—AFP

Farooq Naeem—AFP

Some 47,000 vaccinations missed due to parental refusal; 2.3 million due to security concerns.

Pakistan has recorded 72 cases of polio thus far this year, compared to 58 for all of 2012, a World Health Organization official said on Wednesday.

“Pakistan has reported 72 polio cases, which is highest in comparison to two other countries with the disease, as Nigeria has 50 cases and Afghanistan reported only nine during 2013,” said Elias Durry, emergency coordinator for the WHO’s Polio Eradication Pakistan Program.

According to a global update for polio cases, Pakistan had 58 cases last year while Nigeria had 110 and Afghanistan 31. Six cases this year have been reported in Pakistan’s Punjab province, six in Sindh, and 10 in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. But by far the bulk of the infections, 50, were in the lawless northwestern tribal areas.

Opposition from militant groups in Pakistan has hampered efforts to immunize children, with vaccination teams murdered in some cases. Officials said the violence and suspicions about the vaccine were the reason for the increase in cases. The Pakistani Taliban banned vaccinations in the Waziristan region last year, alleging the campaign was a cover for espionage.

“We successfully immunized over 33 million children during the recent vaccination campaign while 2.3 million children were recorded missed during the campaign,” Durry said, adding that in most cases children were missed in the areas where the law and order situation was not favorable, and where vaccination teams faced security threats. More than 47,000 children missed vaccination because of parental refusals, he said.

In August, health officials warned of the danger of a serious polio outbreak in the northwest, saying that more than 240,000 children had missed vaccination because of the Taliban ban. Polio cases in Pakistan reached a low of 28 in 2005, but rose to 198 in 2011. Last month, the WHO linked an outbreak of polio in Syria to a strain of virus from Pakistan.

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