News / Health

Anti-Polio Drive in Peshawar, Pakistan Falters

A Pakistani health worker, right, gives a polio vaccine to a child held by her mother at their home in Rawalpindi, Jan. 20, 2014.
A Pakistani health worker, right, gives a polio vaccine to a child held by her mother at their home in Rawalpindi, Jan. 20, 2014.
Kokab Farshori
The war on polio is in danger of being lost in Pakistan, and in a dramatic development a new strain of polio has been identified in a part of the country where eradication efforts against the crippling disease are most at risk because of attacks against vaccinators. 
 
Pakistan is one of only three countries, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria where polio remains endemic and while eradication efforts are making progress in Afghanistan and Nigeria they are faltering in Pakistan, the only country in the world where polio case rose from 2012 to 2013.
 
Dr. Sarfraz Khan Afridi, a WHO official based in Peshawar, the capital city of Pakistan’s restive Khyber Pakhtunkhaw province in the northwest of the country,  told VOA’s Deewa Radio that 91 cases of polio were reported in 2013, up from 58 in 2012.
 
Earlier this month, the WHO warned that Peshawar has the world’s largest reservoir of polio virus and that 90 percent of Pakistani polio cases last year were linked to a strain of the disease found in Peshawar’s sewers.  The WHO researchers say that 90 percent of the polio cases in Pakistan can be traced back to the highly contagious strain found in Peshawar, and unless transmissions are curbed in Peshawar, the virus could spread, threatening global eradication efforts. 
 
Dr. Kaleemullah Khan who is the deputy head of the Khyber Pakhtunkhaw government’s polio eradication program, also talking to Deewa Radio said if urgent steps were not taken, the polio virus will “soon be known as Pashtun virus,” after the people who live in Pakistan’s northwest regions and Afghanistan.  
 
Polio eradication efforts cost $1 billion a year and few public health campaigns have been as successful.  Twenty-five years ago about 350,000 people, mostly children were crippled by polio every year.  Now, only about 250 people are infected, but that number could rise dramatically because of attacks against polio vaccinators in Pakistan by Islamist Taliban militants. 
 
Islamist militants have attacked polio vaccinators in other countries, such as Nigeria, claiming the vaccinators are spies or part of drive to sterilize Muslims or spread HIV.

The relative of a female polio vaccination worker, who was killed by unidentified gunmen, talks on the phone while sitting near her body at a morgue in the Jinnah Post Graduate Medical Center in Karachi, Pakistan, Jan. 21, 2014.The relative of a female polio vaccination worker, who was killed by unidentified gunmen, talks on the phone while sitting near her body at a morgue in the Jinnah Post Graduate Medical Center in Karachi, Pakistan, Jan. 21, 2014.
x
The relative of a female polio vaccination worker, who was killed by unidentified gunmen, talks on the phone while sitting near her body at a morgue in the Jinnah Post Graduate Medical Center in Karachi, Pakistan, Jan. 21, 2014.
The relative of a female polio vaccination worker, who was killed by unidentified gunmen, talks on the phone while sitting near her body at a morgue in the Jinnah Post Graduate Medical Center in Karachi, Pakistan, Jan. 21, 2014.
But nowhere has the violence against vaccinators reached the level found in Pakistan.  There are almost daily attacks against vaccinators and violence is escalating.  Recently a bomb targeting a polio security team killed six policemen and a young boy about 30 kilometers outside Peshawar.   Last year there were more than 30 attacks against vaccinators.
 
Observers say polio eradication efforts in Pakistan suffered a setback after Pakistani’s learned that the CIA had paid a Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi to conduct a vaccination campaign in Abbottabad, in a bid to get DNA samples from children inside the compound that housed a-Qaida leader, Osama bin Laden. 
 
Vaccinators who mark houses with chalk to distinguish them from non-vaccinated homes had already come under suspicion in a region targeted by drone strikes and news of the fake vaccination campaign in Abbottabad raised more suspicions about their efforts. 
 
There was widespread outrage over the case in the polio eradication community.  InterAction, a coalition of about 200 U.S. non-governmental organizations said the Abbottabad incident had jeopardized the whole eradication effort. 
 
"The CIA's use of the cover of humanitarian activity for this purpose casts doubt on the intentions and integrity of all humanitarian actors in Pakistan, thereby undermining the international humanitarian community's efforts to eradicate polio,"  InterAction wrote.
 
Pakistani officials insist they are working to mitigate threat risks to vaccinators.

Talking to VOA’s Urdu Service, Ayesha Raza Farooq, Prime Minister’s Nawaz Sharif’s personal representative for polio eradication said the government is trying to provide foolproof security to the teams that administer polio vaccines. 

“We are in the process of finalizing an emergency action plan for 2014,” but she says that constant attacks on polio workers and on security forces escorting them pose “a great challenge for the government.”
 
Cricketer turned politician Imran Khan whose Tehreek-e-Insaf party rules the Khyber Pakhtunkhaw province also recently came out strongly in support of polio eradication efforts and personally administered the polio vaccine drops to some 50 children.

“If we run a full-fledged campaign against polio in the coming three months we can eradicate polio from the country and I will personally lead this campaign,” Khan said when he kick started the anti-polio drive in December last year.

Pakistani’s could soon face tougher travel and visa restrictions if the Peshawar virus spreads.  India already requires all Pakistani visitors to show a record of their polio vaccination, a reminder that while Pakistan struggles to contain a spreading polio virus, India just celebrated the eradication of the disease -- with no new reported case for a third consecutive year.

VOA's Deewa and Urdu Services contributed material to this report

You May Like

US States Where Women Work for Free

Women earn less than men in all 50 states More

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

At a recent even in Seoul, border communities promoted benefits of increased cooperation and North Korean defectors shared stories of life since the war More

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: Iraq President Vows Fight to Death Against IS

In wide-ranging interview, Fuad Masum describes new type of fight that will take time to win More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs