Pakistan has launched a five-day anti-polio vaccination campaign as the number of people affected by the crippling disease surged to more than 100 this year.
Starting on December 16, tens of thousands of polio workers are due to go door-to-door to administer the vaccine to more than 39 million children under the age of 5, according to Pakistan’s polio eradication program.
The campaign will focus on the eastern province of Punjab, where more than 19 million children are to be vaccinated.
Ahead of the launch of the vaccination drive, health officials said that three infants from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab were found to be suffering from polio, an infectious disease that can lead to irreversible paralysis and death.
Pakistan, neighboring Afghanistan, and Nigeria are the only countries in the world where polio is still endemic.
In Pakistan, cases peaked at 306 in 2014, but there had been a sharp reduction since, with the number falling to eight in 2017 and 12 the following year, according to official figures.
However, Abdul Basit, a spokesman of the polio eradication center in the northwestern city of Peshawar, told RFE/RL that 104 new cases have been reported across the country so far this year, 74 of them in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Many of the new cases were attributed to the refusal of parents to allow the children to receive the anti-polio vaccine.
In a tweet, Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq called on parents to “welcome the polio workers as they vaccinate our children against polio.”
“Let us work together for a polio free Pakistan and a polio free world #endpolio,” she wrote.
Rashid Razzaq, the provincial coordinator for the National Emergency Operation Center in Balochistan, said that “strict” measures had been taken to provide “complete security to polio workers,” adding that they will be protected by police and paramilitary forces.
In the past decade, Taliban militants have killed scores of health workers and police guarding them because they believe anti-polio vaccination campaigns are intended to sterilize Pakistani children.
In April, a vaccination campaign ran into trouble when a viral fake video purported to show schoolchildren falling ill after they were given the vaccine.
With reporting by Dawn