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Ex-Saudi minister asks Pak Taliban to allow polio vaccinations

Islamabad, Sept 17, 2012, (PTI)

A former Saudi Arabian health minister has travelled to Pakistan to appeal to the local Taliban to lift their ban on polio vaccinations in the tribal belt and save thousands of children from becoming victims of the crippling disease.

Hussain A Gezairy came to Peshawar to make the appeal to the Taliban, who have banned polio vaccination in North Waziristan and South Waziristan tribal regions to protest US drone attacks, The News daily reported today.

The Taliban have said vaccinations will not be allowed till the US stops drone attacks, which they claimed were targeting innocent people, including women and children.

Gezairy told journalists in Peshawar yesterday that the same vaccine, which was effectively used to eradicate polio among a majority of Muslims round the world, had unfortunately become a hotly debated and controversial subject in Pakistan and is now threatening the rest of the world.

"I personally appeal to Hafiz Gul Bahadur, Maulvi Nazir, Mangal Bagh and the senior leadership of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan to lift the ban on polio vaccination in the name of future generations of the country and rest of the world," he said.

Gezairy, currently an adviser to the director general of the WHO on global polio eradication, said children and their health should be kept separate from other issues.

He shared his experience of working as the health minister in Saudi Arabia when polio was eradicated.

He argued that the polio virus could be eradicated. "Pakistan is one of the three endemic countries left in the world and the rest of the world is more worried about the virus re-infecting their children," he said.

"The government of Saudi Arabia has already imposed restrictions on Pakistani citizens, which includes administration of the polio vaccine upon arrival for Haj and Umra," he said.

Gezairy paid tribute to some banned Pakistani militant groups, including the Ansar-ul-Islam and Amar Bil Maroof in the Khyber Agency, for supporting the anti-polio drive and granting access to thousands of children who were not covered in earlier vaccination campaigns.

These two militant groups recently enabled the government to reach children in Tirah Valley in the volatile Khyber Agency and vaccinate them after some years.

The newspaper quoted Taliban sources in North Waziristan as saying that someone claiming to speak on behalf of the Saudi ambassador in Islamabad had made attempts to speak to commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur on phone but he refused to talk.

"After Hafiz Gul Bahadur refused to (speak on the phone), the caller then wished to talk to his deputy commander Halim Khan but he too declined to attend his call," a source close to Bahadur said.

The Taliban in North Waziristan, led by Bahadur, banned polio vaccination in the region on June 16.

Later, Maulvi Nazeer in neighbouring South Waziristan Agency announced a similar ban on June 25.


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