Pakistan resumes polio vaccines halted by Taliban
 
September 08, 2009 9:00 AM EST ISLAMABAD - Authorities in Pakistan's Swat Valley have resumed vaccinating children for polio, a practice the Taliban had banned as un-Islamic before they were beaten back by an army offensive.

The last inoculations were administered nearly a year ago, an official said Tuesday.

The Islamist militants, who began taking over the valley in 2007, had declared a campaign to vaccinate against the potentially crippling disease was un-Islamic because it was foreign-funded. Swat Taliban leader Maulana Fazullah said the vaccinations were a Western conspiracy to make Muslim children infertile.

Government official Khurshid Khan, a doctor, said six cases of polio have been discovered since vaccinations resumed Monday. Some 215,000 children are a target of the three-day campaign, said Khan. He said Pakistani health officials had to quit their campaign last September after several attacks by the militants. The department made another attempt to restart in January, but that was quickly abandoned after another attack.

"Our staff was beaten and our equipment was snatched," Khan told The Associated Press.

Swat resident Yar Mohammad said the people of the valley welcomed the resumption of the campaign.

"The militants have been depriving our children of our basic right. It is our national responsibility to secure our kids against all diseases," said Mohammad, who lives in the valley's main city, Mingora.

Polio has been eradicated in most countries. But in Pakistan, Nigeria, Afghanistan and India it remains "endemic," according to the World Health Organization.

The disease mostly strikes children under age 5 and is spread when people come into contact with the feces of those with the virus. It usually attacks the nervous system, causing paralysis, muscular atrophy, deformation and sometimes death.

--- Associated Press writers Hussain Afzal in Parachinar, Riaz Khan in Peshawar, Abdul Sattar in Quetta and Matiullah Achakzai in Chaman contributed to this report. Submitted by Rey Neufeld