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Polio vaccination campaign put off in conflict-hit Swat

[Pakistan] A Pakistani child is vaccinated against polio in the 6-8 November 2001 campaign to immunise 35 million children in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Un enfant pakistanais vacciné contre la polio (UNICEF)

Efforts to immunise 350,000 children against polio in Pakistan’s Swat Valley have been put on hold due to ongoing violence in the area.

“Yes, it’s confirmed. It’s postponed,” Dr Javed Iqbal, national polio campaign coordinator for the World Health Organization (WHO), told IRIN in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, on 29 October, noting that some of these children, many of whom had left the area with their families due to fighting, might still be vaccinated if they could be reached.

“That’s why we are providing additional vaccine resources to certain districts where some people are moving to,” Iqbal said, stressing the organization’s desire to immunise as many children as possible in this week’s nationwide campaign targeting 33.6 million children younger than five.

As many as 29 people were killed and 55 others injured on 28 October in the third consecutive day of clashes between security forces and armed supporters of Maulana Fazlullah, a pro-Taliban cleric in the town of Mingora and other parts of Swat Valley, in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

The clashes follow a massive bomb attack against a convoy of security forces near Mingora on 25 October, in which dozens of people were killed, mostly members of the security forces, and one day after 2,500 troops were deployed to the area.

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 Polio knows no borders

“Huge logistical undertaking”

In this week’s three-day polio campaign - a collaborative effort between the government of Pakistan, WHO and the UN’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF) - close to 86,000 trained vaccination teams will go door-to-door to administer the oral polio vaccine (OPV), while children aged six to 59 months will also be given Vitamin A capsules to enhance their immunity.

“This is a huge logistical undertaking, demonstrating the efforts involved in reaching every child every time, to protect them against polio,” said Melissa Corkum, a spokeswoman for UNICEF's polio eradication programme in Islamabad.

“It’s important that all children, including the very young and sick, are taken to a fixed vaccination site to receive the OPV during the national immunisation campaigns,” Corkum said.

But due to security concerns, not every area is accessible to polio teams and field monitors.

“For these reasons, some areas remain inaccessible; the communities do not refuse immunisation, but security concerns do not allow teams to enter the area. Under such circumstances all children cannot be reached with life-saving immunisation,” the UNICEF official conceded.

According to WHO, the world's success in eradicating polio, a debilitating disease mainly striking children, depends on four countries where the virus remains endemic - India, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In 2007 alone, Pakistan has seen 16 cases from across the country, including eight in Pakistan’s southeastern Sindh province, five in NWFP, two in Balochistan and one in the country’s populous Punjab province.

Commenting on this week’s polio campaign - the last nationwide campaign of the year - Corkum said the campaign would continue in Swat once the security situation on the ground improved.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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