Polio outbreak in Swat

Health officials say 13 cases of polio have been confirmed in Pakistan's volatile Swat District over the past four months, mainly because vaccinators have been unable to access children there for over a year.

Fierce fighting between government troops and Taliban militants, which began in May, has displaced hundreds of thousands of people from Swat. Before the army campaign in the area which ended in July, militants had prevented access for anti-polio teams.

"The Swat District currently has a polio outbreak. However, the good news is that we were able to immunize children who had left these areas. Upon their return we were able to immunize a significant proportion of children during a campaign in September," Melissa Corkum, polio programme coordination specialist with the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Islamabad, told IRIN.

She said a three-day anti-polio campaign in Swat had begun on 12 October.

"This time I will get my one-year-old daughter protected against polio. My son, who is five, has had drops several times before. Once I took him to a hospital in Peshawar to get them, because the Taliban in control here at that time said anyone vaccinating children would be punished," Imran Gul, a Swat resident, told IRIN.

Sixty-two cases of polio have been confirmed so far this year in Pakistan, with 35 in North West Frontier Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

"These include 12 cases in the militancy-hit Bajuar Agency and 13 in Swat District," NWFP Health Director-General Fazal Mahmood said.

"The good thing is that most people are conscious they have missed out on vaccinations and are keen to get them now," said Hassan Khan, a Mingora-based physician.

According to the World Health Organization, Pakistan and Afghanistan are among four countries in the world where polio is still considered endemic.