PAKISTAN — Pakistani authorities have launched a new nationwide anti-polio campaign citing an increase in new cases among children.

It is the sixth such campaign this year and will last five days, with the goal of immunizing children under the age of five in high-risk areas.

The latest operation targeted Islamabad as well as high-risk districts in eastern Punjab and southwestern Baluchistan province. In the first week of December, a similar campaign will be launched in the northwest.

Pakistan regularly launches polio campaigns despite attacks on workers and police assigned to inoculation drives. Militants falsely accuse vaccination campaigns of being a Western plot to sterilize children.

Pakistan has recorded 20 new polio cases since April, and the outbreak has been viewed as a setback to efforts to eradicate the disease, which can cause severe paralysis in children.

Pakistan was on the verge of eradicating polio last year when only one case was reported.

Since then, new cases have been reported in the northwest, forcing the government to launch anti-polio drives at small intervals in high-risk areas across the country.

The last such campaign was launched earlier this month.

Pakistan’s anti-polio campaigns are also supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which last month pledged US$1.2 billion to the effort to end polio worldwide.

The money will be used for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative’s strategy through 2026.

The initiative is aimed at ending the polio virus in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the last two endemic countries, the foundation said last month.

In other related news, Indonesia has reported four new cases of polio after four children were found infected with the highly contagious disease that was declared eliminated in the country less than a decade ago.

The virus was discovered in October in a 7-year-old boy suffering from partial paralysis in the Aceh province near Sigli, and three other cases have since been discovered, prompting the mass immunization and information campaign.

The campaign that has kicked off aims to vaccinate some 1.2 million children in the province, said Maxi Rein Rondonuwu, the Health Ministry’s director general for disease control and prevention.

However, this objective will apparently be derailed by false rumors that the polio vaccine contains pork or alcohol, prohibited according to Muslim beliefs, which have proliferated especially in rural areas, complicating vaccination efforts

The World Health Assembly adopted a resolution for the global eradication of polio in 1988 and since then, wild poliovirus cases have decreased by more than 99%, according to the World Health Organization.

It was eliminated in Indonesia in 2014 and is today only still endemic in two countries — Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Polio primarily affects children under the age of 5, according to the WHO. Unvaccinated people of any age can contract the disease, however, and sporadic cases continue to crop up.

In September, for example, the state of New York increased its polio-fighting efforts after the disease was discovered in the wastewater of the New York City area.

Last week, new poliovirus cases were found in Afghanistan, Algeria, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, and Nigeria, according to the WHO’s Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

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