Peshawar: A three-day anti-polio drive has been launched in the lawless tribal belt of northwest Pakistan to vaccinate over 220,000 children though women health workers are not part of the campaign for security reasons.
The drive in Bajaur Agency began just days after authorities said the number of new polio cases reported in Pakistan this year had touched 62, four times higher than the whole of last year.
Women workers will not participate in the campaign because of security reasons, officials said on Tuesday.
"It has been decided in a meeting that the female staff will not take part in the current drive due to security concerns," said Zakir Hussain, the main surgeon of Bajaur Agency.
A ban on polio vaccination imposed by the banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is the main reason for which over 1.3 million children have not been immunised every year, said Elias Durry, World Health Organisation (WHO) polio eradication chief for Pakistan.
Durry said 85 per cent of new polio cases are emerging in Taliban strongholds like North Waziristan, Khyber Agency and other tribal areas.
Pakistan is one of only three countries where the crippling disease continues to be endemic.
The Taliban denounced vaccines as a "Western plot" to sterilise Muslims and imposed a ban on vaccinations in North Waziristan in June 2012, stipulating the restriction would last until US drone attacks cease.
Since then, no one in the entire agency has been able to get their children vaccinated.
"It is a fact that polio becomes a national issue and the government is struggling to purge this disease which is not possible without the cooperation of the community," Bajaur Agency Political Agent Syed Abdul Jabar Shah said.
The inaugural ceremony of the latest drive was held in the agency headquarters hospital yesterday and was attended by senior officials of the health department, WHO, tribal elders and religious scholars.
Shah said that administration is adopting all possible means to defeat polio in the agency bordering Afghanistan.
He called upon the tribal elders and religious scholars to extend their support to the administration as joint efforts and team spirit vital for the elimination of polio disease in the Agency.
Officials said 628 health teams would vaccinate 223,680 children in the agency.