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Pakistan To Resume Anti-Polio Campaign Even As Coronavirus Crisis Deepens

A health worker gives a polio vaccine to an Afghan refugee child in Peshawar (file photo).
A health worker gives a polio vaccine to an Afghan refugee child in Peshawar (file photo).

Pakistan is set to resume vaccinations against polio on July 20, months after the effort was halted by attacks on aid workers and as the coronavirus pandemic overwhelmed the country's health system.

The anti-polio campaign is scheduled to last three days and aims to vaccinate some 800,000 children, officials said.

National authorities have asked police departments to ensure the safety of the polio workers.

Rana Mohammad Safdar, who oversees Pakistan’s anti-polio effort, said workers would adhere to social-distancing regulations while conducting their operations.

Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa told Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates in June that despite the challenge presented by COVID-19, the government planned to restart vaccinations throughout the country.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has assisted Pakistan and other countries to battle the disease.

Polio is a disabling and life-threatening disease caused by the polio virus. Pakistan, neighboring Afghanistan, and Nigeria are the only countries in the world where polio is still endemic.

Some experts have blamed new cases in Pakistan on the refusal of parents to allow their children to receive the polio vaccine.

Pakistan in December 2019 launched a five-day vaccination campaign as the number of people affected by the crippling disease surged to more than 100 in the year.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic overwhelmed hospitals in the country, a series of attacks on polio workers disrupted the aid operation.

The Taliban and other militants regularly stage attacks on polio teams and security forces escorting them. Militants claim the anti-polio drive is part of a Western conspiracy to sterilize children or collect intelligence.

In February, a roadside bomb targeted a police vehicle in northwestern Pakistan, killing a police officer and wounding three others. The police officers were assigned to escort health workers during an polio vaccination campaign in the region.

In January, unidentified attackers shot dead two female polio workers in northwestern Pakistan.

Late last year, Taliban militants in Pakistan shot and killed two police officers who had been deployed to protect a polio vaccination team in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

As it prepares to restart the vaccination program, the country is still battling the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 253,000 people and killed at least 5,320.

With reporting by AP, Radio Mashaal, Reuters, and Dawn
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