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Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Opposing Polio - Taliban campaign against health teams

A teenage Pakistani victim of polio (Photo ANJA NIEDRINGHAUS / AP)
Once a worldwide scourge, Polio is now basically confined to 3 countries, Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan.  The World Health Organisation has made a goal of totally eradicating this disease.  Pakistan is one of the key battlegrounds, and the WHO is finding it a struggle.  Malnutrition may be one reason, but for sure, it is the intersection of the war on polio with another war that makes it an especial struggle.   The Taliban has long opposed vaccination programs.  It is unclear whether, like some Islamicists, including a UK doctor, they believe it is inherently sinful (there are Islamic scholars who take the opposite view), but they most certainly claim that it is part of an infidel western plot, and so target vaccination workers, whether Western (or other foreigners) or Pakistani.   They have long claimed that vaccination programmes are a cover for spying, even before the CIA used a fake vaccination program to help confirm Osama bin Laden's location in Pakistan, prior to their assassination of him.  In the tribal areas they control, the Taliban have banned the polio vaccination program, endangering the lives and health of some quarter of a million children.  But they, along with powerful cleric allies, are also gaining success in halting or delaying the program - and so endangering the lives of yet more children - in other areas, by the simple expedient of shooting and / or kidnapping the doctors and health care workers.  In July, a UN doctor was injured in an attack in Karachi.  
In October, gunmen on motorcycles shot up a vaccination team giving drops to under 5's in Quetta, and one victim was killed.
Then there was a series of co-ordinated attacks over a 20 minute period in Karachi, a favourite Taliban hunting ground, just yesterday.  Four women workers were shot dead, and the polio vaccination program has been suspended in the city.  Elsewhere, in Peshawar another female vaccination worker was fatally shot - she died of her injuries later that day.  
Experts say Pakistan is an especially key battleground against the disease because of the danger of reinfection of other nations.  Recent cases in China came from Pakistan, and the number of children paralysed in Pakistan has been rising, with 200 recorded last year.  
The Taliban once again show themselves to be students of evil and death.

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