Vaccinators refuse to join polio drive

January 11, 2014 - 7:15:49 am
PESHAWAR: Health workers in part of a troubled Pakistani tribal region yesterday refused to participate in a polio vaccination campaign because of security threats, officials said.

The three-day campaign in the Khyber tribal district is due to start today, almost three weeks after gunmen shot dead a worker while he was administering polio drops and vaccines to children in the town of Jamrud.

Efforts to stamp out the crippling disease in Pakistan have been seriously hampered by militant attacks on health workers inoculating children. The Pakistani Taliban banned polio vaccinations in the tribal region of Waziristan in 2012, alleging the campaign was a cover for espionage.

“The employees at the civil hospital in Jamrud swore on oath that they will not join the campaign owing to serious security threats,” a senior health official in the region said on condition of anonymity.

He said these employees recently held talks with the local administration and demanded better security and higher wages for health workers. He said the campaign would be launched according to schedule in Bara and Landi Kotal towns of Khyber from today.

“If the health workers do not participate in the campaign in Jamrud, we will hire the local tribal police for the purpose,” the official added.

One health worker in Jamrud said he and his colleagues had received threats from militants on Thursday night warning them of serious consequences if they joined the campaign. “Our lives are dear to us and we have decided not to join the campaign,” he said, asking not to be named.

Pakistan is one of three countries in the world where polio remains endemic, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria.

Eradication efforts have also suffered due to long-standing rumours that the vaccine was part of a Western plot to sterilise Muslims.

According to the World Health Organization, Pakistan recorded 85 cases of polio last year compared with 58 in 2012.

Polio or infantile paralysis, is an acute, viral, infectious disease spread from person to person, primarily via the fecal-oral route.

While now rare in the Western world, polio is still endemic to South Asia and Africa, particularly Pakistan, and Nigeria respectively.

As of 2012, polio remains endemic in only three countries: Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, although it continues to cause epidemics in other nearby countries due to hidden or reestablished transmission.