Pakistan’s children in harm’s way

Pakistan is one of just three coun- tries where polio is endemic, but prevention efforts have succeeded in reducing the number of cases by around 70 percent this year compared to 2011.

Today, however, the progress in eliminating this scourge — children are particularly susceptible — is being threatened by Islamic militants. They believe the vaccination campaign is a grand conspiracy by the United States to make children sterile.

The conspiracy theory took hold last year after it was publicly revealed that a Pakistani doctor ran a fake vaccination program to help the CIA track down al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden was killed by Navy SEALS in a secret operation that was kept from even the Pakistani government. The No. 1 terrorist in the world was found hiding in a house in Abbottabad in the northwest.

That region of the country is home to the Taliban and other Islamic extremist groups that have vowed to overthrown the secular government in Islamabad and replace with a theocracy.

Taliban leaders have said that the polio vaccination campaign will be under siege so long as the U.S. drone strikes in the remote tribal areas continue. Taliban insurgents have used the mountain area between Pakistan and Afghanistan as a launching pad for attacks on U.S. and other coalition forces in Afghanistan.

The Taliban ruled the country until they were toppled during the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001. Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida terrorist organization was responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on America’s homeland that claimed 3,000 lives.

The willingness of the Islamic militants to sacrifice the health and welfare of Pakistani children to further their perverted ideological goals speaks volumes about the morality of such groups.

Eight people, most of them women, involved in the polio vaccination campaign launched by the Pakistani government were killed this week, prompting the U.N. World Health Organization to suspend the drive in two of Pakistan’s four provinces.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the murder of the health workers “cruel, senseless and inexcusable.”

Ban said thousands of individuals throughout Pakistan are “working selflessly to achieve the historic goal of polio eradication.”

At midweek, police said they had killed two militant suspects and arrested a dozen others.

Unprecedented attacks

The Associated Press reported that the number of attacks against health workers was unprecedented and came as the government began a three-day drive targeting high-risk areas. The goal was to immunize millions of children under the age five.

Polio usually infects children living in unsanitary conditions, attacks the nerves and can kill or paralyze. A total of 56 polio cases have been reported in Pakistan during 2012, down from 190 the previous year, according to the U.N. Most of the new cases in Pakistan are in the northwest, where the presence of militants makes it difficult to reach children. The new campaign aimed to give oral polio drops to 34 million children under the age of five. Clerics and tribal elders were recruited to support polio vaccinations in an attempt to open up areas previously inaccessible to health workers.

While the Pakistani government promised to increase security for the polio workers, the sheer audacity of the militants sends a disturbing message about the country’s stability.

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