Another child contracted polio in North Waziristan Agency (NWA), taking the national tally up to 19. Vaccination teams still find it difficult to access the agency, nearly 13 months after Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar imposed a ban on polio inoculation.
The National Institute of Health (NIH) in Islamabad confirmed the new case — 11-month-old Shabana from Koli Khel in Khushali, Mir Ali.
“The infected child was left paralysed by the virus. She did not receive a single dose of the oral polio vaccine (OPV) in these 11 months. The area of residence of the child is inaccessible for polio campaigns” reads the NIH report.
Both North and South Waziristan have been out-of-bounds for polio vaccination teams since June 2012, when Bahadur and Mullah Nazir imposed bans in the two agencies. The militant leaders linked the anti-polio campaigns to alleged attempts by the US to strengthen spy networks in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). The Taliban conditioned lifting the ban with the cessation of drone strikes.
Around 260,000 children below age-five have been missing the OPVs because vaccination teams cannot carry out door-to-door campaigns in the region.
“If the children are not vaccinated in a region for more than one year there is clear threat of a surge in new cases from said area. The OPVs are the only way to save children from the lifelong crippling disease, but children in these two agencies are not receiving them,” stated a Prime Minister’s Polio Monitoring Cell official.
Nonetheless, he explained, the government tries to vaccinate children when it organises any medical camp in areas adjacent to these agencies.
Mapping the numbers
Fata reported 11 of the 19 polio cases registered in the country in 2013. These include three from NWA. Altogether, K-P and Fata reported 15 cases of people – mostly children – being infected by the crippling virus. Two cases each were reported from Punjab and Sindh this year. Not a single case of polio has been reported from Balochistan.
Nine areas in the country have reported cases of polio.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 11th, 2013.