Pakistan Arrests Parents for Refusing Polio Vaccines

11 March, 2015

Pakistan has arrested hundreds of parents and ordered police to arrest hundreds more for failing to cooperate in efforts to stop polio. Officials acted because the parents refused to have their children vaccinated against the disease. They would not let health care workers give polio vaccine to the children.

The Pakistani government action is part of new efforts to fight the disease. Pakistan is one of only three countries where polio virus remains a problem.

The parents were arrested during a polio vaccination campaign in the northwestern province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Polio cases have been confirmed in the area. The detained parents were sent to jails for refusing the polio vaccine for their children. Officials say the detainees will be freed only after writing an apology and promising their children will get the vaccine.

Pakistan Arrests Parents for Refusing Polio Vaccines
In this file photo, a Pakistani health worker, left gives a polio vaccine to a child, on the outskirts of Islamabad, Pakistan, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

The three-day campaign aimed to vaccinate more than 2.7 million children across Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province. In 2014, Pakistan reported 306 new polio cases, its highest number in 14 years. This year, the country has recorded 13 polio cases, mostly in the northwest.

The rise in cases last year led international donors to pressure the government to make sure immunization campaigns reach every child.

Rotary International is among the donors helping Pakistan and other countries improve their anti-polio efforts. Aziz Memon is the group's National PolioPlus Chair for Pakistan. He admits security concerns and political unrest have hurt the effort. He says the country can help remove polio as a health threat.

"We are almost done. Pakistan is a stumbling block and hopefully in a year you will see that the plans we have, we will be able to give you some good news."

Mr. Memon and United Nations health officials are hopeful that Pakistan's new measures can help it defeat polio in the coming years. They point to the country's effective immunization campaigns in earlier years. Those efforts left officials to declare Pakistan nearly polio free in 2012.

Religious groups in rural Pakistan have long seen the anti-polio campaign as part of a Western plot to keep Muslims from reproducing. And, Islamic militants suspect Western governments are using the campaign to gather intelligence. That suspicion results from reports four years ago that America's Central Intelligence Agency organized an effort to vaccinate Pakistanis against hepatitis. CIA agents were said to have used the immunization drive to find al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

The suspicion of CIA involvement has led to deadly attacks on anti-polio teams and bans on vaccination campaigns in tribal areas of Pakistan. The resulting violence led to the death of more than 70 people, including health care workers.

Last Monday, security concerns forced health officials in Baluchistan Province to postpone a 10-day polio immunization campaign. Health workers also demonstrated in the Zhob area of Baluchistan to protest the killings last month of four members of a polio team. The protesters demanded Pakistan's government bring those responsible to justice.

I'm Jim Tedder.

This report was based on a story from reporter Ayaz Gul in Islamabad, Pakistan. George Grow wrote it for Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.


Words in This Story

vaccine n, a substance containing killed or weakened organisms given to a person or animal to produce protection against a disease

campaignn. a connected series of events, such as military actions during a war

apologyn. an expression of regret for a mistake or accident for which one accepts responsibility

promising v. agreeing to do something

cases (medical) – n. incidents of disease