Another infant has fallen victim to the polio virus in North Waziristan. Shabana, aged 11 months, whom the National Institute for Health in Islamabad confirmed had contracted the disease, will never know a normal life. She has been paralysed by the strain of polio she contracted. The detection of the case brings to 19 the number of cases confirmed in the country this year; 11 of them come from Fata. In both North and South Waziristan, no vaccination has been carried out in most areas for some 13 months, when militant commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur imposed a ban on the delivery of polio vaccinations, linking it to US drone attacks and stating teams would be allowed in only when these stopped. Shabana, the latest victim of this restriction, could, of course, play no part in stopping drones.
Authorities say that the militant stance has meant some 260,000 children under five years of age have been “missed” in North and South Waziristan alone. They also warn that when there is no anti-polio coverage in a specific stretch of territory for over a year, the virus tends to expand. Shabana had not received even a single dose of the amber drops which can so easily prevent a potentially crippling disease. The punishment the militants have meted out to children amounts to an act of barbarism. It also handicaps Pakistan — one of only three countries in the world where the disease remains endemic — from eradicating it.
The role of militants in blocking the administration of polio drops is simply unacceptable. It extends beyond preventing teams from entering an area. Propaganda against vaccinations and misinformation meted out to parents also means the rate of ‘refusals’ is high. These have most recently been reported from the Bajaur Agency. Local administrations and elected representatives from Fata need to urgently assess the situation, examine the militant threat and find ways of ensuring that children are vaccinated against polio.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 12th, 2013.
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