ISLAMABAD: Pakistani authorities will try to persuade militants in a northwest tribal area to lift a ban on anti-polio vaccination teams imposed in protest at US drone strikes, officials said Wednesday.
Local warlord Hafiz Gul Bahadur Saturday banned the anti-polio campaign in North Waziristan, a Taliban and al Qaeda-infested region bordering Afghanistan.
“We have requested the governor of northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province to direct the political agent (administrator) of North Waziristan to open a dialogue with this group,” a senior government official told AFP.
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 region.
“On the one hand they are killing innocent women, children and old people in drone attacks and on the other they are spending millions on vaccination campaign,” he said in a statement distributed in the region's main town Miranshah.
The government official said vaccinating all children in the tribal areas was a top priority in Pakistan's polio eradication programme.
“The federal government has told the governor to use all available means to ensure that the polio campaigns in the tribal area are not disrupted for the sake of tribal children in particular and Pakistan in general,” the official said.
A senior health official said authorities were concerned about the safety of vaccination teams in North Waziristan.
“With a vaccination campaign coming up this week, we are concerned for over 161,000 children under five in the area who require the polio vaccination, many of whom have never been vaccinated even once against this crippling disease,”he said.
“We are also very concerned for the safety of front line polio workers who, despite great personal risk, work to ensure every child is vaccinated.”Officials said the polio vaccination programme had made headway this year in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
Pakistan is one of just three countries where polio remains endemic, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria.
The highly infectious disease affects mainly the under-fives and can cause paralysis in a matter of hours. Some cases can be fatal.