Besides American drones, the Pakistani Taliban in the tribal North Waziristan region are worried about polio vaccines, which they think are an American plot to sterilize their population.
The militant group ordered a ban on polio vaccinations in 2012 after it emerged that a Pakistani physician, Shakil Afridi, was helping the CIA run a fake vaccine program in Abbottabad to confirm the presence of Osama bin Laden in the town.
But the ban is now threatening thousands of children in the area with Polio, which can cause irreversible infantile paralysis after infection.
Authorities have recently begun talks with the Taliban through local tribal Jirga mediators to remove the ban, Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported. The talks reportedly began after another child was diagnosed with Polio, taking the toll of 2013 cases to 16.
Authorities say more than 150, 000 children remained unvaccinated due to the Taliban ban. The World Health Organization estimated that 39 of the 54 nationwide polio cases have come from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
The Taliban have carried out a series of attacks against health workers providing vaccination in the area. Earlier this month two were killed when an explosion targeted a vaccination team in the restive northwestern city of Peshawar.
Ahmed Marwat, a spokesman for Jundullah, a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility, telling Reuters: “Jews and the United States want to stamp out Islamic beliefs through these drops.”
Tariq Bhutta of the Pakistan Pediatric Association told Reuters this month that Taliban are unlikely to change their stance and left the ban of polio vaccines. The attacks against vaccination teams are becoming more frequent, he said.
“The vaccination teams are still going out, but at risk to their lives,” he told Reuters. “People can come up on motorbikes and shoot them, and they’ve also started attacking the police put there to protect the vaccination teams.”
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) says polio remains endemic in three countries – Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.
“Until poliovirus transmission is interrupted in these countries, all countries remain at risk of importation of polio, especially in the ‘poliovirus importation belt’ of countries from west Africa to the Horn of Africa,” GPEI added.
Recently GPEI reported that 10 cases of polio have been confirmed in the war-torn Syria confirmed following an investigation. Most of the cases included children 2 years old or younger and were either. Polio has not been detected in Syria since 1999 and the origins of the latest cases have not been determined.