Page last updated at 15:23 GMT, Tuesday, 10 June 2008 16:23 UK

Militants permit polio campaign

By M Ilyas Khan
BBC News, Karachi

Child receiving a polio vaccination
Pakistan is one of the few countries where polio still exists

Health officials in north-western Pakistan say they have embarked on a polio vaccination drive in the Swat area without resistance from militants.

But government officials say they have not been allowed to cover places where security remains an issue.

Militant leaders in Swat - a district of North West Frontier Province (NWFP) - have campaigned against polio vaccinations since 2006.

But last month they promised not to hamper the vaccination drive.

They made the pledge at the same time as agreeing a peace deal with the government

'Impotent children'

"The drive started smoothly in Swat, but the local administration did not give us the go-ahead for vaccination in about 22 village clusters for security reasons," the head of the polio programme in NWFP, Dr Abdul Waheed, told the BBC.

Since last year polio vaccination teams have not been able to vaccinate children in more than 70 out of Swat's 180 village clusters.

Resistance to vaccinations began when a Swat-based militant cleric, Maulana Fazlullah, started telling people in his FM radio sermons that the vaccine was intended to render their children impotent.

But a spokesman for Maulana Fazlullah told the BBC that the militants would abide by the terms of the peace deal, provided the government did not force parents to vaccinate their children.

"Some people refused the vaccination teams today, but their number is very small," a local journalist, Shirin Zada, told the BBC.

"There was no physical resistance, and no beating up of the vaccination staff by local people as has been normal in the past," he said.

Meanwhile, the vaccination campaign in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas along the Afghan border also kicked off to a smooth start.

In the past, vaccination teams have been beaten up or kidnapped in some of these areas.

The NWFP health department hopes to vaccinate 427,000 children during the current campaign.

Polio has been eradicated from most of the developed world, but new cases are still being reported from Pakistan, Nigeria, India and Pakistan.

Nine new cases of polio have been reported in Pakistan this year.

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