A police officer escorts health workers during a visit to Pakistan’s slums in an anti-polio campaign. — File Photo by AP.
A police officer escorts health workers during a visit to Pakistan’s slums in an anti-polio campaign. — File Photo by AP.

MIRAMSHAH: Health officials in Pakistan on Wednesday warned of a serious polio outbreak after the disease was detected in 16 children in a tribal district where militant groups have banned vaccination.

Doctor Khayal Mir Jan, the top health official in Pakistan's militant-infested North Waziristan tribal district, on the Afghan border, told AFP that thousands of children were at risk.

Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world where the highly infectious, crippling disease remains endemic. Infections shot up from a low of 28 in 2005 to almost 200 last year.

“Polio virus has been detected in 16 children since the Taliban ban,” Jan told AFP. “We are waiting for the result of the stool samples of another 42 children suspected of having the disease.”

Local warlord Hafiz Gul Bahadur banned polio vaccinations in Waziristan in June 2012, alleging the campaign was a cover for espionage.

Bahadur, who is allied with Afghan Taliban fighting US-led troops across the border, said the ban would remain until the US stops drone attacks in the tribal regions. North Waziristan has borne the brunt of the strikes.

Health officials said the disease is in danger of becoming an epidemic and voiced fears that it could spread to the neighbouring districts if vaccination was not begun immediately.

“Every day we are receiving children with polio, we will have to start an anti-polio campaign, otherwise it's becoming epidemic,” Jan told AFP.

Most of the children affected were under five years old. Jan said nine cases were detected in Mir Ali town while seven were detected in Miramshah, the main town of North Waziristan.

An administrative official in the area said efforts were underway to talk to militant groups and support from Islamic scholars had also been sought.

Officials said more than 240,000 in North and South Waziristan were at risk due the ban and have not been administered polio drops since the ban.

A World Health Organization official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed: “Scores of polio cases have been reported in North Waziristan.” “Several other children have also been paralysed in North Waziristan but we are waiting for their test results as we don't know what virus paralysed them,” the official said.

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Comments (8) (Closed)

Aug 28, 2013 07:42pm

"Bahadur, who is allied with Afghan Taliban fighting US-led troops across the border, said the ban would remain until the US stops drone attacks in the tribal regions.".

Because US is attacking Taliban, Taliban is putting the lives of innocent Muslim (yes, Muslim) children at risk.

I just do not get the logic. Actually, I do know the reason.

Aug 28, 2013 09:56pm

God Bless those people who still go out to do polio injections. They are very brave.

Aug 28, 2013 11:44pm

There is no religous restriction on vaccination for polio, talibans are stopping the vaccination on flimsy grounds. Religious scholars and mullahs should start speaking out against this senseless thing and support vaccination of children, before it is too late. Government is too afraid to take appropriate action on its own.

Aug 29, 2013 01:52am

Offcourse the taliban types and Imran Khan and others will blame the US and NATO for polio problem. The locals and the military do not have the guts to confront the militants and make sure healthcare is provided. The unnecessary suffering of children and ravages of a disease does not seem to cause any moral compunctions - all those religious Imslamic people, have just no morals - they can see young children suffer from such a terrible disease. Totally avoidable situation. What pre-historic animals are these people who ban medicine.

Aug 29, 2013 06:50am

Polio and other diseases will not go unless vaccinations are carried out. When the health officers involved in vaccination program are threatened by fanatic Muslims for being agents of firangis this is what you can expect to happen. Educating illiterate Muslim religious leaders is one answer to prevent lives being ruined.

Cosmic Lion
Aug 29, 2013 08:59am

Govt of Pakistan should take active measures to eradicate polio. It is 2013 and for god's sake, make children safe from polio.

Aug 29, 2013 11:40am

India eliminated Polio in the span of 12 years...I remember every year polio drop given to all babies and children under 12 years. It was celebrated like a festival. Finally India get rid of polio 99.99%. Pakistan should follow same technic to eliminate polio, it will take many years.

Good luck

Aug 30, 2013 07:51pm

Because the US bombs the Talibs, the talibs feel they should also make their own children suffer from the life debilitating effects of Polio. Ignorant, selfish and callous. None of which are Islamic qualities.