Resistance to Polio Vaccines in Pakistan Beyond the Taliban

Two more polio vaccine workers were shot dead in northwest Pakistan on Sunday. It is the latest attack on polio eradication efforts in Pakistan that extends back to a series of attacks at the end of 2012. The BBC cites 17 polio vaccine worker deaths in the past few months.

Polio is down, but not out in Pakistan. 35 cases of polio were recorded in Pakistan last year. Vaccines play a key role in eradicating polio. The lack of security in Pakistan and uncertain safety for vaccine workers means an estimated 240,000 children have missed polio vaccines, says the UN.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari issued a statement condemning the killings on Monday. He reiterated the government’s commitment to vaccinating children against polio.

“While condemning the death of the two polio volunteers, the president said that such cowardly and inhuman acts of the militants and extremists can not deter the strong resolve of government to eradicate polio from the country,” said Zardari in a statement.

The weekend saw attacks on a bus and a hospital in Quetta. Dialog is possible with groups that are willing to talk, but Zardari administration is taking a hard-line stance against extremists, said Interior Minister Chaudry Nisar to CNN.

Many reports reference the failed scheme to collect DNA data from the bin Ladden family under the guise of a vaccine campaign as a cause of attacks on vaccine workers. Statements from Taliban leaders indicate that there is a connection, but it is not the only reason people are shunning polio vaccines.

Some people in northwestern Pakistan says electricity is so important that will turn away polio-vaccine workers until electricity is brought to the community.

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“There is an electricity supply line but no electricity, and there is no electricity transformer in the area,” said Village elder Zaitullah Betanai to Radio Free Europe/Radio Library. “We have no mosquito kits and no spray against mosquitoes is arranged so far. Also, there is no ambulance in the area. We want the government to address the four demands immediately.”

You may remember that the World Bank wants to accomplish universal energy access by 2030.  Energy needs for developing countries not outstrips that of the rich countries that make up the OECD. As important as it is to eradicate polio, there are people who want improvements, like access to electricity, addressed first.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.