One million Pakistani children miss out on polio vaccination

Concerns raised after problems over access and conspiracy theories mar nationwide drive

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 October, 2012, 3:19am


Almost one million Pakistani children were left out of a polio vaccination drive which ended this week, officials said, as unrest and flooding limited access and some parents viewed the campaign as a Western "conspiracy".

Data showed some 998,569 children of the 32 million targeted in the three-day nationwide drive, backed by the government and the World Health Organisation, were left unvaccinated against the crippling disease.

Earlier this year, a Pakistani doctor was jailed for helping the CIA track down Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden last year through a fake hepatitis vaccination programme, leading the Taliban to ban immunisation in some areas.

Dr Elias Durry, WHO's senior coordinator for polio vaccination, said the huge number of missed children after the campaign's conclusion on Wednesday was a "cause of concern".

"While we can celebrate the achievement of vaccinating millions of children during every polio campaign, finding and vaccinating the repeatedly missed children should be the top priority of all the polio teams across the country," he said.

Government health officials said most of the one million children remained unvaccinated because of access issues, unrest in southwestern Baluchistan province and flooding in many parts of southern Sindh province.

They added that many parents in militancy-hit northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa still viewed immunisation as a "conspiracy".

In less turbulent areas, health workers failed to carry out follow-up visits or make enough effort to visit houses "far away".

On Tuesday, unknown gunmen killed a polio vaccinator in the Killi Jeo area of Baluchistan's capital Quetta, a day after the campaign kicked off, said senior government official Tariq Mengal.

Pakistan is one of only three countries where the highly infectious disease remains endemic, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria. There have been 30 confirmed cases of polio in Pakistan this year, according to the government.