Pakistan has started a five-day vaccination campaign to try to protect tens of millions of children against polio.
The coronavirus threat will make things more challenging than previous efforts, with workers having to wear masks and gloves as they go door to door around the country.
It’s hoped 40 million children can be vaccinated and vitamin A drops will also be given to “help build general immunity”, said spokesman Zulfiqar Babakhel.
Pakistan’s last polio vaccination effort was in the summer and included ex-Taliban areas bordering Afghanistan.
The Taliban and other militants have claimed anti-polio efforts are part of a Western conspiracy to collect intelligence or sterilise children.
They have previously attacked health workers and the security forces escorting them.
Along with Afghanistan, Pakistan is the only country where polio is still endemic after Nigeria was declared free of the virus last year.
It is hoped 2021 will be the year when it can finally rid itself of the highly contagious infection – which causes temporary or permanent paralysis in some cases and can be life-threatening.
Pakistan recorded only 12 cases in 2018, but there has been a surge in cases since then. To eradicate polio, more than 90% of children must be vaccinated.
There has not been a case in the UK since the 1980s.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic means social distancing will be vital during Pakistan’s vaccination effort – especially as cases and deaths there have recently seen a steady rise.
However, it has still fared better than many Western countries, recording more than 504,000 cases of the virus and
under 11,000 deaths.