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Taliban Undermining Efforts To Control Polio In Pakistan

“It seems public health is the latest casualty of Pakistan’s fight against homegrown militants and extremist groups,” Huma Yusuf, a columnist for the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, writes in this post in the New York Times’ “Latitude” blog, highlighting a recent ban on polio immunization campaigns by the Taliban. “After a period of retreat, the polio virus has recently been detected in sewage samples from several Karachi localities,” she notes, writing, “Today, 22,000 children may be at risk in Karachi, and as many as 250,000 in the tribal areas where Bahadur is based.” She continues, “The resurgence of polio in Karachi is especially worrying because the city is an incubator of disease.”

“To its credit, the Pakistan government supports the WHO and other international partners involved in anti-polio campaigns,” she writes, noting, “Earlier this year, it announced that it would fine the parents of unprotected children,” and “[i]t recently reached out to religious clerics in Saudi Arabia, requesting that they issue fatwas to counter the Taliban decree against vaccinations.” She concludes, “Much rides on these efforts. Failure to check the spread of polio would not only needlessly expose millions of children to an eradicable disease, but also reveal another way in which the Pakistani government’s writ is increasingly undermined by the Taliban” (8/24).

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