Dozens of children in North Waziristan in Pakistan have been crippled by polio in the last six months, even as other children, mostly under two years old, are being endangered by the outbreak of the viral disease. The population is helpless as, with a ban enforced by the Taliban, anti-polio vaccination cannot be administered.
The polio outbreak in the area close to the Afghan border might derail efforts of health organizations to wipe out polio across the globe. Latest statistics show that there have been 296 cases of polio so far in 2013. Forty-three individuals that were infected by polio were from Pakistan, particularly children from regions near the Afghan border.
Experts have also collected samples from the sewage systems in major urban areas and found evidence that the virus might wreak havoc in more populated areas. The ban on vaccination might cause the spread of the disease beyond the affected isolated pockets of Pakistan.
"We have entered a phase that we were all worried about and were afraid might happen. The risk is that as long as the virus is still circulating, and as long as we have no means of reaching these children and immunizing them to interrupt virus transmission, it could jeopardize everything that has been done so far - not only in Pakistan, but also in the region and around the globe," said Elias Durry of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in Pakistan in an interview with Reuters.
The Taliban imposed the ban on vaccines back in 2012, insisting that they are used as tools of Western countries to control Muslims. The group has been attacking health workers who try to administer immunizations in Pakistan.
The negative perception about vaccination campaigns started when purportedly the United States used an immunization team of Pakistanis to gather intelligence of the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden, the Al Qaeda leader killed by U.S. operatives in 2011.
The polio virus attacks the nervous system and causes irreversible paralysis. Health organizations have launched a program in April to eradicate the highly infectious disease by vaccinating 250 million kids several times a year. Constant surveys are also done in over 70 nations. So far, the fight against polio has been successful with cases dropping from 350,000 to 223 in the last 30 years.
Health experts have cornered the virus in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria where the disease is endemic.