PESHAWAR: Dr Hussain A Gezairy, former health minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), has publicly appealed Pakistani Taliban in North Waziristan and South Waziristan tribal regions to lift the ban on polio vaccination and save thousands of children from becoming victims of the crippling disease.
He personally came to Peshawar to make the appeal to the Pakistani Taliban who have banned polio vaccination in their respective tribal regions as a mark of protest against the US drone attacks which, the militant leaders claimed, targetted innocent people including women and children.
Talking to a group of journalists here on Sunday, Dr Gezairy said the same vaccine, which has been effectively used to eradicate polio from the majority of the Muslim world including Saudi Arabia has unfortunately become a hotly debated and controversial subject in Pakistan and was now threatening the rest of the world.
“I personally appeal to Hafiz Gul Bahadur, Maulvi Nazir, Mangal Bagh and the senior leadership of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan to lift the ban on polio vaccination in the name of future generations of the country and rest of the world,” Dr Gezairy said.
He emphasised that children and matters related to their health should be kept separate from other issues. Dr Gezairy is currently serving as adviser to the director general of the WHO on Global Polio Eradication.
He shared his personal experience of working as the health minister in Saudi Arabia when polio was eradicated from the country. “After we eradicated polio from Saudi Arabia, some families from Nigeria transferred the virus to the kingdom and we had to take strict measures to ensure that in future no incident of this type takes place,” he recalled.
Asked about the focus and interest of international health community on polio eradication compared to other diseases, he argued that the poliovirus could be eradicated. “Pakistan is one of the three endemic countries left in the world and the rest of the world was more worried about the virus re-infecting their children,” he pointed out.
“The government of Saudi Arabia has already imposed restrictions on Pakistani citizens, which includes administration of the polio vaccine upon arrival for Hajj and Umra,” he said.
Dr Gezairy paid tributes to some banned Pakistani militant organizations, including the Khyber Agency-based Ansarul Islam and its commander Izzatullah, for supporting the polio drive and granting access to thousands of kids who were missed in the earlier campaign in the remote mountainous Tirah valley of Khyber Agency.
“I would also like to say a word of thanks to Izzatullah of Ansarul Islam and Amar Bil Maroof for their effective role and support in ensuring a better future for the children in Pakistan,” Dr Gezairy said.
The two militant groups recently enabled the government to reach kids in Tirah Valley in the volatile Khyber Agency and vaccinate them against poliovirus after some years.
Dr Gezairy also held meetings with Chief Minister Ameer Haider Hoti and Governor Masood Kausar on Sunday as part of the initiative for polio eradication to get the provincial government to play an effective role in getting rid of the disease.
Taliban sources in North Waziristan said someone saying to be speaking on behalf of Saudi ambassador in Islamabad made some attempts to speak to Hafiz Gul Bahadur on phone but the Taliban commander refused to talk to him due to reasons best known to him.
“After Hafiz Gul Bahadur refused to come, the caller then wished to talk to his deputy Commander Halim Khan but he too declined to attend his call,” sources close to Hafiz Gul Bahadur said.
The Taliban in North Waziristan, led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur, on June 16 last through a pamphlet banned polio vaccination in the tribal region to protest the US drone strikes. Later Maulvi Nazeer in the neighbouring South Waziristan Agency took the same plea and circulated pamphlets in Wana on June 25 announcing the ban on polio vaccination.