News / Asia

Zardari's Daughter: Pakistan Working Hard to Combat Polio

Aru Pande
The fight to eradicate polio in Pakistan has a high-profile advocate - the daughter of the country's president.

Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world where the disease is still prevalent.  The other two nations are Afghanistan and Nigeria.

As the country's goodwill ambassador for polio eradication, Aseefa Bhutto Zardari is vowing to help Pakistan become polio-free. She is the daughter of President Asif Ali Zardari and recently told VOA's Urdu Service that the government is doing everything it can to vaccinate Pakistani children, particularly those living in the country's northwest tribal region.

Last month, Pakistani officials said some 250,000 children in the region were unlikely to receive polio vaccinations during a national campaign, due to threats from militants who warned medical teams to stay away from the tribal areas or "face consequences."  Militants allege the effort is being used to gather information for suspected drone strikes in the region.

Aseefa Zardari says the government is working with the military to ensure polio vaccinations are given at military hospitals as well as checkpoints where residents cross into and out of the tribal region. She says health workers cannot enter the region until all military operations are stopped and it is safe for them to go door-to-door to administer the drops to children.

Zardari says part of her mission is to help convince people that the polio vaccination campaign is not part of some type of conspiracy. Some aid groups have acknowledged that the recent case of jailed Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi has hurt vaccination efforts.  Afridi was accused of running a fake vaccination campaign to help the CIA obtain DNA samples to confirm Osama bin Laden's presence at a compound in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad.  The al-Qaida leader was killed in a covert U.S. raid in May of 2011.

Zardari says she wants to make clear, that "this is not a campaign by America, this is not a conspiracy of some sort, this is in the interest of our people, this is in the interest of the Pakistani government, not just the international community."  

Polio usually infects children living in unsanitary areas.  The viral disease attacks the central nervous system, sometimes causing paralysis, muscular atrophy, deformation and death.

The daughter of President Zardari and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto says she wants to send a message to all Pakistani mothers to make sure their children receive life-saving vaccinations.  

She tells VOA, "My mother never wanted to see a Pakistani child suffer, she wasn't only a great mother to her children but she was a mother of the nation. She cared about all Pakistani children and never wanted to see a Pakistani child crippled by this disease; I don't want to see any Pakistani child crippled by this disease."

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