Pakistan Launches Anti-Polio Vaccine Drive Targeting 44M Children Amid Tight Security

A health worker administers a polio vaccine to a child at a neighborhood of Lahore, Pakistan, Monday, Oct. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)
A health worker administers a polio vaccine to a child at a neighborhood of Lahore, Pakistan, Monday, Oct. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)
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ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan launched its second nationwide anti-polio campaign of the year Monday in an effort to inoculate 44 million children under the age of 5 amid signs the country was close to eradicating the disease.

Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul-Haq-Kakar launched the five-day vaccination campaign in the capital, Islamabad, and urged parents in a televised address to cooperate with the 350,000 health workers who are going door-to-door to administer vaccine drops to children.

The campaign was taking place under heavy security. The government deployed police and security forces to ensure the safety of the inoculation drive workers.

Vaccine providers and the police assigned to protect them have been attacked during past anti-polio campaigns, which militants falsely claimed were a Western conspiracy to sterilize children.

Pakistan has registered two new polio cases since January, a blow to the goal of eradicating a disease that affects the nervous system and can cause severe paralysis in children.

Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan are the only two countries in the world where polio continues to threaten the health and well-being of children.

Pakistan came close to eradicating polio in 2021, when only one case was reported, and last year reported about two dozen cases.

The cases so far this year were reported from northwestern Pakistan bordering Afghanistan, where the Taliban rulers last week launched a four-day polio vaccine drive targeted at children under 5. The health ministry said 11 million children were inoculated.

In 2022, only two polio cases were reported from Afghanistan, raising hopes for the eradication of disease. Five cases have been reported so far this year.

Before taking control of Afghanistan in August 2021, the Taliban had barred U.N.-organized vaccination teams from doing door-to-door campaigns in parts of the country under their control. The group apparently was suspicious the team members could be spies for the previous government or the West.