ISLAMABAD (dpa) – Pakistan confirmed Sunday its first polio case this year, after a record number of children were infected in the country by the crippling disease in 2014.
The child is from north-western Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, where militants have killed scores of polio vaccinators in recent years, Health Minister Saira Afzal Tarar said.
Pakistan recorded 303 cases in 2014, up from 93 a year earlier, according Ayesha Raza Farooq, the government’s Focal Person for its End Polio initiative.
More than 90 per cent of the victims were from the restive region on the Afghan border, where gunmen linked with al-Qaeda often attack health workers vaccinating children, Farooq and Tarar said.
Nearly two dozen vaccinators running an immunization campaign, along with security officials protecting them, were killed by Taleban militants in the past two years, according to police statistics.
The militants accuse the health workers of acting as spies for the United States and claim the polio vaccine is intended to make Muslim children sterile.
The attacks grew after the CIA ran a fake vaccination campaign as part of its hunt for al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, who was killed by Navy SEALs at his hideout in the northern Pakistani city of Abbottabad in 2011.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only countries where the number of new polio cases were on the rise in 2014.
Twenty-eight cases were reported in Afghanistan in 2014, compared with 13 a year earlier. The global total for 2014 stood at 385, down from 416 a year earlier, the WHO said.
Polio is a disease that especially affects children.
One in 200 infections results in paralysis, and between five and 10 per cent of paralysed patients die, according to the WHO.
The sharp increase in Pakistan was due to the displacement of nearly 50,000 families from the North Waziristan tribal district after a military offensive in mid June, Tarar said.
Children from these families were never vaccinated, nor were they counted in the national total because the area was inaccessible to Pakistani officials, she said.