PESHAWAR: The recurring polio cases in North Waziristan and no vaccination there since 2012 has prompted the Pakistan Army to extend a helping hand to the government in eradication of the deadly poliovirus from North and South Waziristan agencies and Bara tehsil of Khyber Agency, relevant officials said.

The army personnel will provide security to health workers to ensure administration of oral polio vaccine to children in the militancy-stricken areas of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The officials said that this would put brakes on the virus circulation and safeguard children in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa from infection with virus from Fata.

They said that a meeting of the officials of Fata Secretariat, the Pakistan Army and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa health department on Thursday took notice of the increasing number of polio cases in North Waziristan tribal region and lack of vaccination in Bara tehsil of Khyber Agency. They said that it decided to strengthen security of the vaccinators in the conflict zone to ensure that no child below age five missed the vaccination.

The army is conducting security operations in North and South Waziristan agencies while in rest of the five agencies the security operations were done by the Frontier Corps (FC), the officials said. There are three areas of concern with regard to polio eradication programme for which the Pakistan Army has expressed willingness to support the health workers and the government in eradication of poliomyelitis. These areas include Bara tehsil of Khyber Agency, and North and South Waziristan agencies, they said.

Islamabad-based health officials said that the Pakistan Army was an institution of the government and it was mandatory for it to help the government in implementation of its programmes when and where required.

They said that in North and South Waziristan, the army would support the political administrations to reach the target children. They said that the army’s help had been sought in view of non-vaccination of over 300,000 children in Waziristan where the militants had banned vaccination in mid-2012.

North Waziristan has recorded 33 polio cases in Pakistan’s total tally of 47 in 2014 so far and the health officials fear a massive outbreak of the vaccine-preventable childhood ailments if immediate vaccination is not undertaken, they said, adding that all those who tested positive in North Waziristan hadn’t received any dose of the OPV because of the militants’ restrictions.

Similarly, South Waziristan has recorded two cases, Khyber one and Frontier Region, Bannu, two cases, they said. The officials, who attended the meeting held on Thursday at the GHQ Rawalpindi, said that the federal government had been asked by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to ensure vaccination of children in Fata.

They said that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had detected virus from Fata in the local children, thus threatening its vaccination efforts. The provincial health department has also expressed concern over presence of poliovirus in Bara, Khyber Agency, which could affect children in Peshawar.

Early this month, the WHO found virus from Bara in water sample taken from Peshawar that prompted the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to request the federal government to vaccinate children there and help stop transportation of virus to Peshawar.

The federal government, which directly governs Fata, has asked the Pakistan Army to help vaccinators in the conflict-prone areas, the officials said, adding that the FC would provide security assistance to the political administration in Khyber Agency in the coming campaigns.