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Longtime battle against polio in Pakistan faces tough challenge from militancy
Islamabad, June 29 - Pakistan has been facing a tough battle against poliovirus for years with an unwelcoming attitude toward vaccines in rural areas and negative propaganda against health workers engaged in the vaccination campaign.
Still, it is terrorism that has affected the polio eradication campaign the most, Xinhua news agency reported.
The latest attack happened on Tuesday in which three people including a health worker and two policemen escorting him were gunned down by unknown militants in the country's northwestern tribal district of North Waziristan. A kid who was receiving polio drops also got injured in the attack.
In a conversation with Xinhua, Bushra Arain, head of the All Pakistan Lady Health Workers association, said that over 120 female health workers and hundreds of police officers have been killed during various polio eradication campaigns across the country with the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province being the worst-hit.
"Extremists also attack the soft target of polio teams to create panic in the area, discouraging the locals from inoculating their kids against the disease," she said.
Arain said that things got better after 2016 when militancy was largely defeated after military operations, but sporadic attacks on the polio teams continued.
According to a recent report by the World Health Organisation, Pakistan is among the four countries where the wild poliovirus retains its grip on infant health, besides Afghanistan, Mozambique, and Malawi.
In 2022, 11 new polio cases have surfaced in Pakistan about 15 months after the country was polio-free, according to the Ministry of Health, which said that North Waziristan district remained the epicenter of the disease where all the 11 cases were reported.
Talking to Xinhua on condition of anonymity, police sources from North Waziristan district said that security measures have been beefed up, and police officers have been directed to conduct search operations in various areas of the district to catch the fugitive militants.
The sources said that attacks on polio teams have caused panic in the area, and the families who were initially interested in having their kids receive polio drops have showed hesitation to allow the access by female health workers.
To control the fast spread of the wild poliovirus in the area, Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif has announced a polio eradication campaign targeting the 25 most vulnerable districts including North Waziristan district.
The recent anti-polio drive kicked off on Monday, and 100,000 trained health workers are taking part in the drive to vaccinate over 12 million children under five in a door-to-door manner.
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