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Polio Case Detected in North Waziristan

by AFP
Rizwan Tabassum—AFP

Rizwan Tabassum—AFP

U.N. officials identify first child in North Waziristan to contract polio since the Taliban banned vaccinations a year ago.

The first child to contract polio in Pakistan’s militant-infested tribal belt since the Taliban banned vaccinations a year ago has been identified, a U.N. official said Monday.

“The new case has been detected in North Waziristan where we had been denied access in June last year,” said Elias Durry, the World Health Organization’s senior coordinator for polio eradication in Pakistan. “This has been the first case since we were stopped from vaccinating children in the region last year.”

Tribesmen in North Waziristan—Pakistan’s notorious stronghold of Taliban and Al Qaeda-linked militants—endorsed the Taliban’s ban and stopped authorities from vaccinating children under a nationwide campaign. The Taliban alleged that the campaign was a cover for espionage, prompted partly by false reports that Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had been found in Abbottabad by Dr. Shakeel Afridi through the use of a fraudulent anti-polio campaign.

Efforts to tackle the highly infectious disease have also been hampered over the years by local suspicion about vaccines being a plot to sterilize Muslims, particularly in Pakistan’s conservative and poorly educated northwest. Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria are the only three countries in the world where the crippling disease remains endemic.

“We are worried because this new case comes as an example of a bigger impending outbreak of disease in the region,” WHO’s Durry said, adding that the United Nations and the Pakistani government are working together to reach out to the children in North Waziristan.

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