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Pakistani Villagers Vow 'No Electricity, No Polio Vaccinations'

A health official marks a child's hand after administering a polio vaccine in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. (file photo)
A health official marks a child's hand after administering a polio vaccine in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. (file photo)
Tribal elders in a a northwestern Pakistani region are taking extreme measures in an effort to bring electricity to their area, saying that as long as they have no electricity they won't vaccinate their children against polio.

Several hundred residents from villages in Lakki Marwat district staged a protest demonstration on June 10 and turned away polio-eradication teams.

Village elder Zaitullah Betanai told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal that polio teams will not be allowed to go about their work until the central government accepts the villagers' demands.

"There is an electricity supply line but no electricity, and there is no electricity transformer in the area," Zaitullah said. "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."

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Lakki Marwat is a southern district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province that borders the tribal region of South Waziristan.

Local government official Gul Zardar said the administration had engaged in talks with the protesters to try find a solution.

"The political agent says he will not compromise on polio vaccination," Zardar said in a reference to the most senior official in Lakki Marwat. "All their just demands will be addressed. The elders are now discussing the situation with the political agent and we shall continue until their demands are addressed and ensure every child gets polio drops."

'What's The Difference?'

It is not the first time polio-vaccination campaigns have been boycotted in northwest Pakistan.

In June 2012, tribal elders in some areas of North Waziristan decided not to administer antipolio drops to children in protest against the suspension of power supplies through so-called rolling blackouts.

They accused the local political administration of siphoning off the money allocated to power projects in the area.

"Our children die of scorching heat and mosquito bites; what difference does it make if they die of polio?" one of the tribal elders was quoted as saying.

That boycott was a further blow to local polio-eradication efforts at a time when Taliban groups in North and South Waziristan banned the vaccination campaign in a protest against U.S. drone strikes.

The boycott and the Taliban "ban" left thousands of children unvaccinated.

Perilous Task

Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria are the only three countries in the world that the World Health Organization (WHO) still regards as "polio-endemic." Polio affects mainly children under the age of 5.

Poverty, illiteracy, and extremist ideology militate against efforts to eradicate the disease in northwestern Pakistan.

Authorities suspended a UN-supported polio vaccination campaign on the outskirts of the city of Peshawar after gunmen attacked two female polio workers on May 28, killing one and injuring another. No one claimed responsibility for the attack.

Polio workers have increasingly come under deadly attack in Pakistan, where militants have suggested the vaccine is a plot to sterilize Muslims and accused health workers of spying for the United States.

In 2011 Pakistan recorded 198 polio cases, the highest figure for more than a decade, according to the WHO. Last year, 58 polio cases were recorded.

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