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Taliban hurdle to polio-free Fata

By Ashfaq Yusufzai 2013-10-13
PESHAWAR, Oct 12: Back-to-back emergence of cases, especially in North Waziristan Agency due to Taliban ban on vaccination, is hampering the government`s efforts to get a polio-free status for Palcistan ahead of Nigeria and Afghanistan, the other two polio endemic countries left in the world.

`Pakistan`s efforts to eradicate polio will remain a dream that will never come true unless we administer oral polio vaccine to all children under five years of age.

The presence of unvaccinated children also poses a challenge to achieving the task of getting the country free of polio,` relevant officials said.

Pakistan with 43 cases is in race with Afghanistan (six cases) and Nigeria (49) to be declared polio-free, but indications are that the situation in Fata, especially in North Waziristan and Khyber Agency with 14 and 13 cases respectively, would make the government`s task difficult to achieve. The officials said that the Fata accounted for 31 nationwide polio cases and was a stumbling block in the way of global efforts to declare Pakistan a pollo-free country.

On Saturday, the National Institute of Health (NIH), Islamabad, confirmed four new cases, including three from North Waziristan Agency and one from Khyber Agency, the officials said. Taliban had banned administering oral polio vaccine to children in North Waziristan Agency in June 2012 and linked its resumption with the stoppage of drone strikes in Fata, they said.

Taliban also prohibited immunisation for nine childhood ailments, including polio, a week later, in adjacent South Waziristan Agency, making vulnerable the children there to preventable diseases, they said. The officials said that in both the tribal agencies about 300,000 children had been unvaccinated for 16 months now who risked infection.

`Unabated circulation of virus in conflict areas has also put at stake the nationwide efforts for eradication of polio because we couldn`t achieve the status of polio-free country without administering vaccines to all the targeted children,` the officials said.

They said that more cases could come from North and South Waziristan and Bara tehsil of Khyber Agency as vaccination in Taliban-controlled areas was not possible.

The officials feared that Pakistan`s efforts to be declared polio-free ahead of Nigeria and Afghanistan could end up in failure. Nigeria has recorded 49 cases so far in 2013 against 93 in 2012, while Pakistan is 15 cases away from reaching the mark of 58 casesitrecordedlastyear.

The officials said that the Fata was the main contributor to polio cases due to which chances of getting polio-free status were very dim. They said that complete eradication was possible only through vaccination everywhere in the country.

`We don`t want to be the last polio endemic country because it would be an indication of our national failure to eliminate a disease after two decades of struggle when the virus was eradicated in most of the countries,` the officials said.

The Fata and KP had 38 polio cases in 2013 and more cases were expected there due to lack of quality campaign to reach all the children. The officials said that the government needed to vaccinate about six million children in Fata and KP.