WHO says polio fight critical despite attacks

March 1, 2013

The head of the World Health Organization's polio drive said Friday it was crucial to push on with the fight to eradicate the disease despite a rising death toll among vaccination workers.

A Pakistani policeman was shot dead earlier this week while protecting a polio team, police said, bringing the number of deaths in such attacks in the troubled country to 20 since December.

Speaking in Australia Dr Bruce Aylward said the WHO was working to reduce for those involved in work to tackle the crippling illness in countries such as Pakistan.

"It's a horrible tragedy. As you can imagine, it's something very personal, the pain you feel for families that lose people in the course of a programme that you are actually the head of," he told AFP from Canberra.

"(But) every time it does happen... invariably the people come back and say to us 'this makes finishing that much more important'."

The umbrella Taliban faction in Pakistan last year banned polio vaccinations in the tribal region of Waziristan, alleging it was a cover for .

Rumours about vaccines being a plot to sterilise Muslims have also dogged efforts to tackle the highly infectious disease in Pakistan, one of three countries along with Nigeria and Afghanistan where polio remains endemic.

Last month stormed two clinics where workers had gathered in Nigeria, killing at least 10 people, prompting the government there to vow to press on with the eradication programme.

Aylward said the violent reactions had occurred as moved into areas that had often been long neglected, and in many instances were not experiencing polio outbreaks at the time.

"This is an incredible landscape for suspicion and ," he said.

"And it also provides an incredible opportunity for people who want to embarrass the government or play out a political agenda. And that's really what's happened."

Aylward said it was important to push on with the programme because it was the low season for polio after the peak at the end of the calendar year, and this year there were unusually low levels of the disease around.

"This is the Achilles heel of the virus right now so it would be really unfortunate to have to stop at this time—but at the same time we won't do something stupid."

There were 223 cases of in 2012, with all but six of these in Nigeria (122), Pakistan (58) and Afghanistan (37), according to WHO data.

Explore further: Polio virus found in Egypt linked to Pakistan

Related Stories

Polio virus found in Egypt linked to Pakistan

January 21, 2013
Pakistani health officials Monday called for infants leaving the country to be issued polio vaccinations at airports after virus samples linked to a southern Pakistani city were discovered in Egypt.

UN polio suspension hits 22,000 Pakistan children

August 2, 2012
Around 22,000 Pakistani children are at risk in Karachi after the World Health Organization suspended polio vaccinations over a spate of bloody shootings, a UN official warned Thursday.

Fall in polio vaccination refusal cases in Pakistan

October 22, 2012
Pakistan has witnessed a sharp drop in the number of families refusing to get their children vaccinated against polio, officials said Monday, while lamenting that nearly half a million children were left unvaccinated.

3.5 million Pakistani children miss polio vaccine: WHO

December 21, 2012
More than 3.5 million Pakistani children missed out on polio vaccination this week in a campaign overshadowed by the deaths of nine immunisation workers, a UN official said Friday.

Pakistan claims progress in tribal polio vaccination

September 4, 2012
Pakistan Tuesday claimed progress in vaccinating thousands of children against polio in a tribal area bordering Afghanistan which had been inaccessible due to unrest for about three years.

Egypt to vaccinate after polio found in sewer (Update)

January 24, 2013
Egypt will carry out a vaccination campaign for children in parts of Cairo after polio was recently found in the capital's sewage, believed to have been brought to the country from Pakistan, a Health Ministry official said ...

Recommended for you

To combat teen smoking, health experts recommend R ratings for movies that depict tobacco use

July 21, 2017
Public health experts have an unusual suggestion for reducing teen smoking: Give just about any movie that depicts tobacco use an automatic R rating.

Aging Americans enjoy longer life, better health when avoiding three risky behaviors

July 20, 2017
We've heard it before from our doctors and other health experts: Keep your weight down, don't smoke and cut back on the alcohol if you want to live longer.

Opioids and obesity, not 'despair deaths,' raising mortality rates for white Americans

July 20, 2017
Drug-related deaths among middle-aged white men increased more than 25-fold between 1980 and 2014, with the bulk of that spike occurring since the mid-1990s when addictive prescription opioids became broadly available, according ...

Parents have critical role in preventing teen drinking

July 20, 2017
Fewer teenagers are drinking alcohol but more needs to be done to curb the drinking habits of Australian school students, based on the findings of the latest study by Adelaide researchers.

Fresh fish oil lowers diabetes risk in rat offspring

July 19, 2017
Fresh fish oil given to overweight pregnant rats prevented their offspring from developing a major diabetes risk factor, Auckland researchers have found.

High-dose vitamin D doesn't appear to reduce the winter sniffles for children

July 18, 2017
Giving children high doses of vitamin D doesn't appear to reduce the winter sniffles, a new study has found.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.