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Pakistani polio campaign targeted by wary tribesmen

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistani authorities have suspended a campaign against polio in parts of a remote tribal region after villagers opposing the drive against the crippling disease threatened health workers, an official said on Wednesday.

Some Muslim clerics in the conservative tribal belt along the Afghan border have opposed anti-polio campaigns, saying it is a foreign-funded ploy to sterilise people. Pakistan is one of the few countries where the deadly disease still exists.

“We have stopped vaccination programme after tribesmen threatened our workers and broke their equipment in Sarkari Killa and Kotgi Charmang villages on Tuesday,” Dr. Cherag Hussain told Reuters, referring to areas in the Bajaur tribal region.

Hussain said there were up to 4,000 children to be vaccinated in the two villages.

“They have threatened to kill health workers if they visit again,” Hussain said of a national drive this year to immunise 32 million children of under 5-years of age.

The campaign in the Bajaur region of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) was also suspended early this year after a doctor and a health worker were killed in a roadside blast.

Bajaur is considered a hotbed of support for Islamic militants.

The polio campaign coordinator, Dr. Javed Khan, said that about 175,000 vaccinators were taking part in the national drive against the disease that has been eliminated in developed nations but persists in parts of India, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Pakistan had 39 cases last year, but the number has come down to 11 this year. Khan said the genetic origin of four of the cases had been traced to the tribal region, including Bajaur.