Police in Pakistan’s troubled northwestern province detained hundreds of people Monday over their refusal to allow the vaccination of their children against the crippling polio disease, officials said. The arrests were made on the first day of a two-day anti-polio vaccination campaign in Peshawar, the provincial capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. A district administration spokesman told ucanews.com that 471 people were arrested Monday and sent to the central jail in Peshawar. “They were not allowing children to be immunized against the polio virus,” the spokesman said. He said that arrest warrants had been issued for another 1,000 people. Most arrests were made in Mithra Khazana and Matni areas on the outskirts of Peshawar. “We will not hesitate to take any action against parents playing with the future of their children,” Riaz Mehsud, deputy commissioner of Peshawar, told ucanews.com. “We also introduced a jirga system involving clerics, health and city officials in a bid to persuade adamant parents.” Hardline clerics in Pakistan have long denounced polio vaccination as a conspiracy by the West to sterilize children and suppress Muslim population growth. Opposition to the polio campaign turned violent after the CIA used a fake immunization program to trace al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in May 2011. Dozens of health workers and their escorts were killed in subsequent militant attacks in Pakistan. “Many parents say that Islam doesn’t permit anti-polio vaccination, some fear this could sterilize their children,” Mehsud said. He, however, said that there would be no leniency for those obstructing vaccination of children. “We have recorded more than 10,000 refusals in Peshawar alone. Whoever resists the vaccination now will land in jail.” A health official said that the two-day drive “Sehat ka Insaf” will be run in 97 union councils of Peshawa, targeting more than 754,000 children under the age of five. “We have formed 4,000 teams of vaccinators to complete the task in two days,” he said. According to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, polio remains endemic in three countries — Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria — and until poliovirus transmission is interrupted in these countries, all countries remain at risk. With 306 cases of polio recorded last year, Pakistan has been ranked top of 10 countries known to have the virus.
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