Pakistan launches anti-polio drive amid surge in coronavirus

ISLAMABAD (AP) - Pakistan on Monday launched a five-day vaccination campaign against polio despite facing another surge of coronavirus cases, the second anti-polio drive in 2021 as the country struggles to eradicate the crippling children's disease.

This time, the campaign aims to vaccinate about 40 million children across Pakistan, said health official Saisal Sultan, who also oversees the country's response to coronavirus.

Sultan said polio workers would follow social distancing measures and other precautions over the coronavirus. He urged people to cooperate by allowing polio teams to vaccine their children and asked authorities to provide protection to polio teams.

Pakistani militants regularly stage attacks on polio teams and police escorting them, claiming the anti-polio drive is part of a Western conspiracy to sterilize children or collect intelligence.

These attacks increased after it was revealed that a fake hepatitis vaccination campaign was used as a ruse by the CIA in the hunt for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden was killed by U.S. commandos in 2011 in Pakistan.

Monday's anti-polio push began hours after authorities imposed a partial lockdown in several more high-risk areas in the country, after a jump in positive coronavirus tests. Pakistan has registered more than 659,000 coronavirus cases and 14,256 deaths.

Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan are the only two remaining countries in the world where polio is endemic, after Nigeria was last year declared free of the wild poliovirus.

A health worker administers a polio vaccine to a child in Lahore, Pakistan, Monday, March 29, 2021. Despite a steady rise in coronavirus cases, Pakistan on Monday launched a five-day vaccination campaign against polio amid tight security, hoping to eradicate the crippling children's disease this year. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary) The Associated Press
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