News You Really Need To See: “Pakistan Exodus Sparks New Polio Danger”

“Pakistan Exodus Sparks New Polio Danger”

The Wall Street Journal, June 23, 2014, p.A7

Tens of thousands of children who haven’t been immunized against polio are pouring out of the Pakistani region of North Waziristan with their families to escape a military offensive there, bringing new perils to a country already struggling to cope with the crippling disease.  Pakistani Taliban militants, the target of a government military offensive that began a week ago, have banned polio vaccinations in North Waziristan in recent years.  No children there have been inoculated since June 2012. … The mass exodus of people from the region also poses a chance to vaccinate children who were largely unreachable before, government officials said.  ‘I would see this as an opportunity,’ said Ayesha Farooq, who is the prime minister’s point person on grappling with Pakistan’s polio crisis.  Authorities will register where families are staying and go door-to-door to administer polio drops, he said.  ‘These are children we haven’t been able to access for two years now.’  But health workers warn that the humanitarian crisis unleashed by the military offensive threatens to spread the virus further. … The military gave North Waziristan’s civilian population—an estimated 550,000 people—notice to leave the region last week ahead of plans to begin a ground offensive there.  Most of the displaced people have moved away from areas governed by tribal law, and primarily to the town of Bannu and other towns in the adjacent province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.  In the cramped camps set up for those displaced from North Waziristan, children can more easily infect each other with the paralyzing illness, [UN health worker] Dr. Ahmed said.  Polio is spread through unsanitary conditions and poor sewage, especially through fecal matter, making the camps a potential hotbed for contagion.  The many more displaced people flocking to homes of relatives in Bannu pose a another challenge: many are much harder for health workers to identify and reach.  Out of the 394,319 people that government officials said had left the region as of Sunday afternoon—including 163,405 children—just 16 families had elected to go to the camps, according to the country’s disaster management authority for the tribal areas.  The camps, where identifying children for vaccination would be relatively easy, are unattractive and uncomfortable. … The authorities said that they have vaccinated the children as the families passed through military checkpoints, giving children up to the age of 15 the polio drops.  However, children need multiple vaccinations to be safe, and health workers said it is difficult to track many of those outside the camps down for repeat doses.”

Quickie Analysis:  Making lemonade out of lemons.  (An awful lot of lemons.)

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