LANDIKOTAL: Many people in Bazaar Zakhakhel area of Khyber tribal district are boycotting the polio vaccination campaign in protest against closure of Sasobi Kandao border crossing with Afghanistan.

Thousands of children below the age of five years in the entire area could not get vaccine as announcements were made in mosques asking the people not to cooperate with the vaccination teams. A newly formed social organisation is leading the protest and threatening to block the main highway and protest outside the press club if the border crossing was not opened and an assurance was not made with the people of Bazaar Zakhakhel that no discrimination will be made against them.

Leaders of the social organisation including Khabar Jan and Sial Jan said the state of agriculture, industries and business is not good in Bazaar Zakhakhel; therefore, the border must be opened to promote trade and create job opportunities for the local youth. They said the boycott of polio vaccination will continue till the border crossing is opened.

The area elders said two rounds of negotiations were held with the administration, but no outcome was found. The government had recently indicated its intention to open the border crossing in Sasobi Kandao and some work was also done on its feasibility, but the border could not be opened. The local people are of the view that their economy is weak and there is joblessness due to lack of business activities. They say they took the extreme step of polio vaccination boycott over continuous negligence towards the area by the government.

District Health Officer (DHO) Tariq Hayat said Bazaar Zakhakhel comes under the jurisdiction of the deputy commissioner and he must take steps to solve the problem. Some volunteers of the social organisation also pelted stones on the vehicles of Tauheedul Islam after which Tauheedul Islam members detained several members of the social organisation.

While there is no cure for polio, vaccination is the most effective way to protect children from the crippling disease. With each vaccination of children below the age of five years, their protection against the virus is increased. No vaccination means more vulnerability to the virus particularly in Pakistan where it is endemic.

Currently, Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only two countries in the world which have not fully eradicated polio. The main cause behind the emergence of so many polio cases is refusal of parents to cooperate with the vaccination teams.

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