Wednesday January 24, 2018

Detection of a rare strain of Polio in Pakistan’s Balochistan alarms authorities

A five-day response campaign across the provincial capital of Quetta has started in January

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FILE - A Pakistani health worker gives a polio vaccine to a child in Karachi, Pakistan, Dec. 1, 2016. Polio remains endemic in Pakistan after the Taliban banned vaccinations, instigated attacks targeting medical staffers and spread suspicions about the vaccine. VOA
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Detection of a rare strain of polio in Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan province has alarmed authorities and prompted them to launch special immunisation campaigns for children younger than 5.

After concluding a five-day response campaign across the provincial capital of Quetta earlier this month, health officials said they plan to give anti-polio drops starting January 16 to millions of children across 27 districts of the province, including those near the Afghan border.

The new, intensified immunization effort follows detection of the rare Type 2 strain of polio, which the World Health Organization found in sewage samples in one of the districts in the province.

Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are the only three countries in the world where the crippling virus is still active.

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Remarkable progress

Despite security challenges and administrative weaknesses in national immunization efforts, Pakistan’s anti-polio fight achieved remarkable progress in 2015 when the country of about 200 million reported only 19 cases, down from a record of 309 cases in 2014.

Aftab Kakar of the provincial emergency operation center in Quetta says that Type 2 polio struck about 15 children three years ago in the Killa Abdullah district toward the Afghan border.

But routine immunization campaigns coupled with special response efforts at the time stopped the transmission of the virus until WHO’s findings released a couple of weeks ago confirmed its re-emergence in Baluchistan, where only one polio case was reported in 2016, Kakar said.

“The international community has shown its concern over the detection of this (Type 2) virus in Pakistan because the rest of the world has eliminated it and reported no new cases for years,” he noted.

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Type 2 virus

Pakistan stopped vaccinating children against the Type 2 polio during routine immunization campaigns since last April, believing the strain had been successfully eliminated from the country as in the rest of the world, Kakar said.

“Now, our major concern and fear is that the group of children who were born after April 2016 are not immunized against Type 2 poliovirus. That group is now vulnerable and is in danger of contracting the virus,” he warned.

On Wednesday, provincial health officials reported the first polio case of the new year in Killa Abdullah, but the strain of the virus was not known immediately.

Border campaign

Baluchistan shares a nearly 1,200-kilometer border with Afghanistan and as many as 20,000 people move across the main Chaman border crossing everyday, where special vaccinating teams are deployed to ensure children moving in both directions are given anti-polio drops.

Col. Changez Zeb, in charge of Pakistani border forces, explained the anti-polio operation to VOA during a visit to the busy crossing point.

“This is the sign of the polio vaccination,” he said while pointing to the inked fingers of three young Afghan children driven in an improvised cart by their parents after receiving the medicine. “The polio team has given them the vaccination while entering and while exiting from Pakistan. They have three to four teams here. If one of them misses (the children) the other one catches them.”

Pakistani authorities insist that successes against polio is the outcome of national immunization efforts coupled with recruiting hundreds of thousands of influential Muslim clerics to persuade parents in remote, relatively conservative districts who used to resist the vaccination drops for their children because of religious beliefs or suspicions it would hurt fertility.

The refusals and militant threats to vaccinating teams undermined anti-polio drives in recent years. But Kakar says that refusals have lately dropped from thousands to hundreds, while improved security in Baluchistan has also played a key role in conducting effective immunization campaigns.

Extremist groups view anti-polio campaigns as a cover for Western spies, prompting deadly attacks on vaccinators during immunization campaigns across Pakistan. A bomb explosion in January 2016 killed 15 people outside a vaccination center in Quetta. The anti-state Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the bloodshed.

Opposition is also blamed on a fake CIA-sponsored immunization campaign that led to the famous May 2011 covert American military raid against fugitive al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad, killing the world’s most wanted man. (VOA)

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All You Need To Know About India’s Strategic Chabahar Port

The Chabahar Port is a seaport in Chabahar, which is on the Gulf of Oman, near Iran-Pakistan border.

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Chabahar Port is of great international significance in terms of trade, especially for India. Wikimedia Commons
Chabahar Port is of great international significance in terms of trade, especially for India. Wikimedia Commons

By Ruchika Verma

  • The Chabahar Port is of great strategic importance for India
  • It is in Iran and is being built and operated by India
  • This port will increase India’s trade with Central Asia and Europe

The Chabahar Port is a seaport in Chabahar, which is on the Gulf of Oman, near Iran-Pakistan border. Chabahar is the trans-shipment and logistics hub for the Makran Coast and Baluchistan province of Iran.

Chabahar Port is built and operated by India. Wikimedia Commons
Chabahar Port is built and operated by India. Wikimedia Commons

The tension between India and Pakistan is nothing new. There are several instances where both the countries have tried to obstruct each other’s political or economic agendas. This obstruction, along with other strategic reasons, resulted in the India and Iran’s deal on the Chabahar Port, which is crucial because of several reasons.

Here are few things about it you may not have known before :

  • Under the Trilateral Transit and Transport Agreement of 2016, the Chabahar port is the gateway to the Transport Corridor between India, Iran and Afghanistan, which allows multi-modal goods’ and passengers’ transport.

Also Read: India and Iran sign agreement to develop Chabahar Port

  • The agreement also states that India will develop and operate two berths in the first phase of the port. The contract is for 10 years and extendable. This time period excludes the first two years as they will be used for construction.
Chabahar Port will make India's trade with Afghanistan easier. Wikimedia Commons
Chabahar Port will make India’s trade with Afghanistan easier. Wikimedia Commons
  • The Chabahar Port’s first phase, which was developed by India, and inaugurated by Iran on 4th December 2017, is of great strategic importance as it makes it easier for India to conduct trade with Central Asia and Europe.
  • Iran’s Chabahar port is also important for India’s trade because of Pakistan’s reluctance in allowing India to send goods to Iran and Afghanistan through its land territory.

Also Read: Gwadar Port: China Turning Pakistan Port Into Regional Giant 

  • The development of Chabahar Port will increase the momentum of the International North-South Transport Corridor whose signatories include India, Afghanistan and Russia. Iran is the key gateway in this project. It will improve India’s trade with Central Asia as well as Europe.
    The Chabahar Port has also reduced Afghanistan’s dependence on the transit road, which went through Karachi. Now, trade can be conducted via Chabahar Port too. Islamabad has accused India of trying to use this development as a means to destabilise Pakistan.

    The Chabar Port is the said to be the counter to the Gwadar Port. Wikimedia Commons
    The Chabar Port is the said to be the counter to the Gwadar Port. Wikimedia Commons
  • The Chabahar Port also acts as a counter to the barely 100 km away, Gwadar port in Pakistan, which is developed by China. However, Iran has defended that Chabahar is not a rival to Gwadar and Pakistan is invited to join in its development.
  • In October 2017, India sent its first shipment of wheat to through Chabahar to Afghanistan, in order to test the viability of the route.
  • India will also construct a 900-km Chabahar-Zahedan-hajigak railway line that will connect Port of Chabahar to Hajigak in Afghanistan. It will also connect Mashad in the north, providing access to Turkmenistan as well as northern Afghanistan.This project is worth $1.6 billion.

    India will supply $400 million worth of steel rails to Tehrain. Wikimedia Commons
    India will supply $400 million worth of steel rails to Tehran. Wikimedia Commons
  • It is being said that India will supply $400 million of steel rails to Tehran. There are also possibilities of setting up a fertilizer plant through a joint venture with the Iranian government.