Pakistan launches first polio vaccination drive of 2021


dpa/GNA – Tens of thousands of health workers have travelled throughout Pakistan for the first polio vaccination drive this year despite rising coronavirus infections, officials said on Monday.

Around 40 million children would be given the vaccine for the crippling disease, which has been stamped out from rest of the world but is still prevalent in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The drive, which is part of a UN-funded campaign, would last for a week to target children up to five years of age, Pakistan health chief Doctor Faisal Sultan said.

Thousands of police and paramilitary soldiers would guard the health workers in regions where they are routinely attacked by Islamist militants.

Islamic clerics and the extremist groups oppose the vaccination, calling it a conspiracy by the Western nations to sterilize Muslims, which has caused a major obstacle, impeding the disease’ eradication.

The opposition by clerics and their conservative followers is particularly strong in regions near Afghan border that were once controlled by the Taliban militants linked with al-Qaeda.

The drive was launched as Pakistan crossed a grim milestone of half a million Covid-19 infections this weekend, but Sultan said workers would follow the preventive guidelines.

The number of new polio cases had dropped to 84 last year compared to 147 in 2019, said doctor Nadeem Shah, who leads a team of experts to monitor the drive.

After peaking at 306 in 2014, polio cases had declined to a single digit in 2017 before picking up again.

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