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Police force polio vaccine on Pakistani children

Health workers in Pakistan have taken the desperate step of calling in the police to force polio drops on children whose parents refuse the vaccine on the orders of hardline mullahs.

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Health workers in Pakistan have taken the desperate step of calling in the police to force polio drops on children whose parents refuse the vaccine on the orders of hardline mullahs.

The country is one of three — along with Afghanistan and Nigeria — where hundreds of thousands of children are being put at risk after some clerics ruled that the vaccination was un-Islamic, and even suggested the programme was being used as a cover for CIA spies.

Islamabad has drafted legislation to make vaccination compulsory and to punish preachers who spread false rumours.

Last week a polio worker was shot dead in Karachi, throwing the immunisation programme into disarray.

Doctors in one region of the Punjab have called in uniformed help after several families in Dera Ghazi Khan refused vaccinations on religious grounds.

All were members of the Ahle Hadith sect, a conservative, puritanical Salafi group, according to Musa Kaleem, the district health officer.

"About 20 children refused the vaccine yesterday. We called in social organisations, religious leaders and the district police officer also sent police to help as well," Dr Kaleem said.

"Today we got them all vaccinated, most by persuasion but in the case of three or four, the police had to force them to take the vaccine."

Pakistanis could face travel restrictions if more is not done to wipe out the disease.

Health workers have already sought fatwas from clerics to convince their followers there is nothing haram - or illegal under Islamic law - about polio drops.

The strategy has been undermined since it emerged that last year that the CIA used a hepatitis campaign to hunt for Osama bin Laden.

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