Pakistan ban risks global polio eradication campaign

UNICEF was supposed to start a polio vaccination drive covering 161,000 children under 5 in Pakistan on Wednesday, June 20. But a Taliban leader put a stop to that plan.

Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a Pakistani Taliban commander, announced the ban in North Waziristan, known as the tribal belt, over the weekend. He said the freeze on vaccinations will remain until the Central Intelligence Agency ceased its drone campaign. The decision, he said, was made by the Shura-e-Mujahedeen, a council bringing together extremist factions in the area, including the Taliban and al-Qaida.

“Under these circumstances, we cannot continue,” Dr. Muhammad Sadiq, the surgeon general for North Waziristan, told The New York Times.

Pakistan is one of three countries where polio is endemic. Afghanistan and Nigeria are the two others. The disease’s continued transmission prompted the World Health Assembly in May to declare complete polio eradication as a global public health emergency.

Vaccination campaigns in Pakistan have encountered problems since the killing of Osama bin Laden, who was located with the help of a fake immunization program run by a local doctor working for the CIA. Distrust toward public health workers has grown, and parents in some parts of the country have spurned vaccinations for their children.

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    Eliza Villarino

    Eliza Villarino currently manages one of today’s leading publications on humanitarian aid, global health and international development, the weekly GDB. At Devex, she has helped grow a global newsroom, with talented journalists from major development hubs such as Washington, D.C, London and Brussels. She regularly writes about innovations in global development.