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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book 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.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs