Peshawar: Around 200 security personnel have been trained to immunise children against polio in north-western Pakistan after civilian workers refused to join an upcoming campaign against the crippling disease.
Under the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI), personnel of the Khasadar and Levies militias have been trained as an "alternative tool" to administer oral polio vaccines to children in the restive Khyber tribal region.
Authorities resorted to the move after a large number of vaccinators declined to take part in a drive beginning on January 8.
Wazir Akbar, in charge of EPI in Khyber Agency, said Khasadar and Levies personnel were trained after 400 civilian workers in Jamrud area and over 400 vaccinators refused to join the polio campaign.
He expressed hope that negotiations underway with EPI technicians would succeed. For this purpose, a grand tribal jirga will be held in Jamrud tomorrow.
Earlier, EPI officials had demanded fool-proof security and a compensation package for two vaccinators killed recently in Jamrud by suspected militants.
Wazir said these demands had been accepted.
EPI technicians and workers are still organising protests in Khyber Agency, he said. If the vaccinators cannot be convinced in two days, security personnel will be roped in to vaccinate children, he said.
Political Agent Mutahir Zeb Khan said personnel of the civilian administration will be armed with automatic weapons to deter attacks during the upcoming campaign.
According to the EPI, 127,000 children will be vaccinated during the campaign.
The Taliban banned anti-polio campaigns in parts of the tribal belt, saying the vaccines were part of a conspiracy to "sterilise" Muslims. They have said the ban will remain in force till the US stops drone attacks in the region.
Dozens of people, including vaccinators and security personnel, have died in attacks blamed on the Taliban.
Pakistan is one of only three countries where polio is endemic.