Ongoing militant violence in Pakistan continues to affect the health and lives of innocent children. In the north-western region of the country, militants are preventing 250,000 kids from getting much-needed polio vaccines.
Approximately 150,000 children in North Waziristan and 100,000 in South Waziristan may miss being vaccinated during a three-day long campaign next week.
In the north last month, militants warned medical teams that should they return, they would “face consequences," reports the Voice of America.
The militants worry that the campaign is a cover for reconnaissance activities that will feed information to the United State for drone attacks. The worries may be rooted in a past revelation. Last year, an anti-hepatitis vaccination drive was used as a cover to help the United States Central Intelligence Agency gather information on Osama bin Laden.
According to Pakistani officials, local authorities and nongovernmental groups are working to convince militants and the tribal community to allow the anti-polio vaccination campaign to proceed as planned.
Among them, reports the Voice of America, is the National Rural Development Foundation, a partner of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The group is devising a communication strategy that will approach religious leaders for help.
“There is possibility that we may have to skip the polio campaign in North and South Waziristan because we are not getting clearance from the army nor is the situation conducive,” said a Pakistani official to the AFP.
WHO Polio Director, Dr. Elias Durry told the New York Times that the programme may not be seriously affected unless the incident spreads or becomes long-term.
“It was a setback, no doubt,” he conceded.
And then there were three …
Earlier this year, India was removed from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) list of polio-endemic countries. This leaves only three other places in the world where polio remains prevalent: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.
While India recorded zero new cases last year, Pakistan recorded 198, indicating the need to vaccinate children in order to protect them. Some good news is that the transmission of polio in the mountainous Waziristan districts is not pronounced as in urban slum areas.
Children in North and South Waziristan received one does of the polio vaccine in June, before the local ban went into effect. While these doses offer limited protection, they will need several vaccines before they are truly protected.
Polio is a viral disease spread most in unsanitary and unhygienic conditions. The poliomyelitis virus enters the body’s mouth and replicates in the intestines. It then attacks the body’s nervous system.
According to the WHO, symptoms include fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, neck stiffness and limb pain. In a minority of cases—one in 200—polio causes paralysis, usually in the legs. A tenth or fewer of these causes are fatal when the central nervous system is irreparably attacked and breathing muscled become immobilized.
Children under the age of five are worst affected. The consequences of polio, such as physical disability, remain with a child for their entire lives, as there is no cure.
Globally, the polio burden has fallen 99 per cent since 1988, when there were 350,000 cases. In recent times, polio cases have been brought to about 1,350.