ISLAMABAD, July 25: With polio vaccination banned by the Taliban in Federally Administered Tribal Areas and pockets of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the fear is that the crippling disease would filter down — maybe even to Islamabad.
The Taliban have issued decrees banning the anti-polio campaigns in the north-western tribal belt to protest against what they describe as “US aggression” and have demanded an end to the drone attacks on militants near the Afghan border where al-Qaeda-linked Taliban have sanctuaries.
Even though the federal government conducted a three-day National Immunisation Drive (NID) from July 16-18 targeting around 34 million children under five-years of age, an official of the Prime Minister's Polio Cell claimed that over 200,000 children could not be vaccinated in the tribal belt and adjoining areas.
Dr Urooj Hasan, the Capital Development Authority’s director health, told Dawn that his department was targeting around 800,000 people in the urban areas while over 450,000 people were being targeted in the limits of the Islamabad Capital Territory administration.
He added that the authority had earmarked all areas where Afghan and Pashtun settlers are located in the city.
“Threat of polio has increased two-fold because of the large number of Afghan and Pashtun settlers in sector I-11 whose children did not receive vaccination in their hometowns, and now more so because of the specific ban by the Taliban,” he said.
“Another pocket of these migrants also exists in front of NUST in sector H-10 but despite all the constraints we managed a better NID at the federal level in urban areas,” claimed Dr Hasan.
A senior official of the federal government maintained: “The Afghan Basti in sector I-11 currently hosts over 1,600 Afghan and Pashtun children who are under the age of five and most were successfully immunised by the Capital Development Authority’s polio team.”
The official stated that 193 polio cases were recorded in 2011 and this year alone 23 cases have been registered with the Prime Minister’s polio cell but most of the polio cases were from the tribal areas.
“Since there is rapid movement of Afghan refugees and internally displaced people from the province to Afghan Basti, and given its proximity to the urban area of the capital, it is a concern for us,” he elaborated.
The official of Prime Minister's Polio Cell added that the Khyber Pahtunkhwa provincial government has established around 45 polio immunisation points between the province and Fata to limit the spread of the polio virus through movement of internally displaced people.
“Other than these 45 points, 11 new points for polio immunisation have also been established at district borders within Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” he revealed.
Regarding the capital city, he said that environmental water samples were tested by the National Institute of Health for polio virus but “the test reports had cleared Islamabads water samples from all strains of the virus.”