PESHAWAR: Syed Wali desperately wants to immunise his three young children against polio but fears the militants who banned the vaccine from this remote area in northwest Pakistan will catch him if he tries to smuggle it in.
''I can afford to bring the vaccine for my children, but what answer will I give the Taliban if they recover the vaccine bag from my possession?'' Wali asked.
Wali's fears are shared by many in the North Waziristan tribal area as health authorities recently confirmed five new polio cases there and suspect there are many more.
It's one of a series of outbreaks this year in parts of the country where security threats have kept out vaccination teams.
Officials worry these outbreaks — inflamed by militant threats and attacks on vaccination teams — could worsen and spread to other parts of Pakistan, especially since the country is entering the high season for virus transmission. '
'It's not like a pot of boiling water where you see bubbles coming from everywhere, but there is steam coming out from specific areas,'' said Dr Elias Durry, emergency coordinator for polio eradication in Pakistan for the World Health Organisation.
"Our fear is that the virus from these areas can go out and seriously jeopardise the success in fighting polio that has been achieved in the past couple of years.''
Pakistan — one of only three countries left where polio is endemic — had 198 confirmed cases in 2011, the highest number of any nation in the world. Pakistan was able to bring that number down to 58 in 2012 through a vaccination program that is supported by the United Nations.
But the militant threats could reverse that progress. There have been 27 confirmed polio cases in Pakistan so far this year — the third highest total in the world after Somalia and Nigeria. Seventeen of them have occurred in the country's semiautonomous tribal region, the main sanctuary for Taliban and Al Qaeda militants, Durry said.