Militants in Bajaur threaten polio workers of 'severe consequences'

Published October 21, 2014
Polio team members have been frequently attacked by extremist militants alleging that polio vaccination is a cover for espionage or a Western-conspiracy to sterilise Muslims.— File photo/Reuters
Polio team members have been frequently attacked by extremist militants alleging that polio vaccination is a cover for espionage or a Western-conspiracy to sterilise Muslims.— File photo/Reuters

PESHAWAR: Militants on Tuesday threatened polio workers of "severe consequences" if they participate in the polio vaccination campaign in Bajaur tribal agency.

A militant outfit distributed pamphlets in Bajaur's tehsil Khar area warning polio workers against participating in the "anti-Islamic" polio vaccination drive, and vowing to attack all those participating in it.

The Pashto language pamphlet pasted on walls in various parts of Haji Lawang and Muslim Bagh area of Khar says that those supporting the polio drive or participating in vaccination would be targeted.

The pamphlet contains mobile phone numbers for the residents and workers to call and apologise if they had previously participated in the drive.

Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world where the polio virus is still endemic, but efforts to stamp out the crippling disease have been hit by repeated attacks on health teams.

Explore — War on polio: Is it all spiraling out of control for Pakistan?

Polio team members have been frequently attacked by militants in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas' (Fata). Militants allege that polio vaccination is a cover for espionage or a Western-conspiracy to sterilise Muslims.

On Sept 10, a paramilitary soldier escorting a polio vaccination team was shot dead in Mamond tehsil of the Bajaur Agency.

Earlier this month, Pakistan broke its 13-year-old record of 199 polio cases with the confirmation of eight more cases on October 3.

Official data shows that an overwhelming 96 per cent of polio cases so far reported were found among the Pashto-speaking population of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata.

Fata – which has never been able to vaccinate its targeted population of around nine million since the global polio eradication initiative began in Pakistan in the mid 1990s – has become a challenge for the government and UN agencies, which are finding it extremely hard to address the issue of reaching unvaccinated children.

A recent World Health Organisation (WHO) report said Pakistan was responsible for nearly 80 per cent of polio cases reported globally.

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