Crippling statistics: Fight against militants leads to polio spike

Published: January 15, 2011

Pakistan is the only country in 2010 to record an increase in cases of polio.

PESHAWAR: In a country with no shortage of alarming statistics, here is another: Pakistan is the only country in 2010 to record an increase in cases of polio — 138, up from 89 in the previous year, according to World Health Organisation figures cited in an Associated Press news report. This number made it the nation with the highest incidence of polio in the world.

Most cases were detected in the northwest close to the Afghan border, where fierce skirmishes between Pakistani army and Taliban fighters make many areas too dangerous to visit. The army bans travel to parts of the region, citing the security situation.

The effort to eradicate the disease was affected when a Taliban leader declared the vaccine “un-Islamic” last year. In Afghanistan, Taliban cooperate with health workers administering the vaccine.

A WHO-backed campaign, which began in 1988, aims to eradicate polio from Pakistan by the end of 2011. But some doctors say privately that the target will not be met.

Army spokesman Maj-Gen Athar Abbas said he was unaware of many areas where health organisations are not able to deliver necessary vaccinations. The army helps facilitate access in certain areas where the security threat is high, he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 15th, 2011.

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