Islamabad: The number of polio cases in Pakistan has reached 62 this year, four more than the total for last year, and a minister today said authorities will have to do more to combat the disease to save the country from global embarrassment.
On Monday, three new cases of polio were confirmed by Pakistani authoirities, taking the total to 62. Pakistan is one of only three countries where the crippling disease is endemic.
According to media reports, the Pakistani strain of the polio virus has affected people in five countries in the past 22 months.
Describing the situation as alarming, Minister of State for National Health Services Saira Afzal Tarar asked provincial authorities to improve their vaccination campaigns and to make extra efforts to save Pakistan from international embarrassment.
A massive countrywide coordinated vaccination campaign will be launched from November 18, she said. "We have cancelled holidays for health workers to make sure every child is vaccinated this time," she added.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates, over 1.3 million Pakistani children of the target population of 34.2 million miss the polio vaccine every year for various reasons.
WHO`s polio eradication chief in Pakistan, Elias Durry, believes a ban on polio vaccination by the outlawed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is the main reason for the missed vaccinations.
Durry said 85 per cent of new polio cases are emerging from North Waziristan Agency, Khyber Agency and other tribal areas where vaccinations are not allowed.
The Taliban have denounced the vaccines as a "Western plot" to sterilise Muslims. In June 2012, the militants banned vaccinations in North Waziristan Agency, saying the restriction would last till the US stops drone attacks.
At least 260,000 children in North and South Waziristan regions have not been vaccinated since July 2012.
After the CIA used a Pakistani vaccination team to gather intelligence about slain Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in 2011, right wing groups and extremists claimed immunisation campaigns were a cover for spies.