Pakistan launches anti-polio drive as COVID-19 cases decline

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Health workers visit a slum area for polio vaccination, in Lahore, Pakistan, Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020. (AP)
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A health worker gives a polio vaccine to a child at a slum area in Lahore, Pakistan, Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020. (AP)
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A health worker gives a polio vaccine to a baby girl at a slum area in Lahore, Pakistan, Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 15 August 2020

Pakistan launches anti-polio drive as COVID-19 cases decline

  • Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are the three countries in the world where polio is still endemic
  • Pakistan has reported about 100 new polio cases from various parts of the country since Jan.

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani health officials on Saturday launched a seven-day vaccination campaign against polio as part of efforts aimed at eliminating the crippling disease amid a steady decline in fatalities and infections from the coronavirus, which had recently overwhelmed the country’s fragile health system.
The anti-polio campaign, which began amid tight security, aims to vaccinate as many as 34 million children across Pakistan, including former Taliban strongholds bordering Afghanistan, a government statement said.
Medical workers participating in the drive against polio were seen adhering to social distancing regulations as they wore face masks and gloves while going house-to-house to avoid a spike in coronavirus cases.
“I am hopeful that parents will continue to realize the importance of vaccinating their children during this campaign,” said Faisal Sultan, an adviser to the prime minister on health issues.
According to Rana Safdar, who heads the government’s polio program, similar campaigns against polio will be launched in October, November and December.
Earlier Saturday, Pakistan’s military said Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist, praised Islamabad’s success in the fight against coronavirus in a telephone call to the country’s army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa. It said Gates also discussed the resumption of the drive against polio.
Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are the three countries in the world where polio — a disabling and life-threatening disease caused by the polio virus — is still endemic. The nonprofit Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has helped Pakistan and other places worldwide fight the disease.
Pakistan had hoped to eliminate the disease by 2018, when only 12 cases were reported. But there was a surge in new cases the following year. Since January, Pakistan has reported about 100 new polio cases from various parts of the country, including the northwestern region bordering Afghanistan.
Pakistani Taliban and other militants regularly stage attacks on polio teams and security forces escorting them because they claim the anti-polio drive is part of an alleged Western conspiracy to sterilize children or collect intelligence. Attacks on polio teams increased after it was revealed that a fake hepatitis vaccination campaign was used as a ruse by the CIA in the hunt for Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden was killed by US commandos in 2011 in Pakistan.
Pakistan halted the drive against polio in March and resumed it last month amid a decline in infections and fatalities from COVID-19.
On Saturday, Pakistan reported only 9 new deaths from the new virus in the past 24 hours, increasing the country’s total of COVID-19 deaths to 6,162. So far, Pakistan has reported 288,047 cases and officials say about 93% of the patients recovered since February, when the country reported its first confirmed case.


Law to protect soldiers would be ‘dangerous’ to UK forces’ reputation, PM warned

Updated 10 min 8 sec ago

Law to protect soldiers would be ‘dangerous’ to UK forces’ reputation, PM warned

  • “This bill would be a stain on the country’s reputation,” military and political figures said

LONDON: A bill that aims to repress claims against British troops was “dangerous and harmful” to the reputation of the UK’s armed forces and the safety of its personnel, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been warned.
Military and political figures have encouraged the British premier to reconsider the “ill-conceived” legislation, which will return to the House of Commons next week, The Times reported.
Former head of the armed forces , Field Marshal Charles Guthrie, ex-defense secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, and former attorney-general, Dominic Grieve, sent a letter to Johnson on Thursday sharing their concerns about the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill, the British newspaper said.
The draft law seeks to limit false and old allegations against personnel through measures including a statutory presumption against criminal prosecution five years after an alleged crime.
Compelling new evidence must be presented, and the attorney-general’s consent secured in order for the presumption to be overruled. The bill is only applicable to overseas operations.
In the letter, Guthrie and other signatories said: “We find it disturbing that the government’s approach … creates a presumption against prosecution of torture and other grave crimes (with only rape and sexual violence excepted) after five years.
“We believe that the effective application of existing protocols removes the risk of vexatious prosecution. To create de facto impunity for such crimes would be a damaging signal for Britain to send to the world.
“This bill would be a stain on the country’s reputation. It would increase the danger to British soldiers if Britain is perceived as reluctant to act in accordance with long-established international law,” they added.
Britain’s most senior military judge had warned defense secretary, Ben Wallace, that the legislation could leave British troops more likely to face prosecution for war crimes at the International Criminal Court at The Hague, The Times revealed in June.
As the legislation sets out protections relating only to domestic crimes, it could encourage police and prosecutors to focus on pursuing war-crime charges, Judge Jeffrey Blackett said.
The Ministry of Defense has said that the legislation “strikes the right balance between victims’ rights and access to justice, as well as fairness to those who defend this country.”