The number of polio-infected children in Pakistan fell significantly in 2015 due to the military's success in pushing back Islamist militants, an official said Thursday.
“It is a remarkable achievement,” said Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq, who heads Pakistan’s anti-polio campaign. “We are now aiming for a complete eradication this year.”
Only 51 new cases were reported in 2015, down from 306 the previous year, as health workers were able to reach areas previously controlled by Taliban insurgents in the north-western tribal areas.
The Taliban rebels in the volatile region have opposed polio vaccination, calling it the enemy’s conspiracy to sterilize Muslims.
They have killed dozens of UN-funded vaccinators and the police who guarded them, leaving many untreated children crippled with a lifelong disability.
But the militants were pushed out of most of their strongholds in a series of military offensives launched from mid-June 2014.
“It gives our health workers liberty to reach communities whose children were never vaccinated in the past,” Farooq told dpa.
The health workers within the next six months are expected to reach every child below the age of five years, she said.
Pakistan is one of the world's few countries, along with neighbouring Afghanistan, where polio is still endemic.