Authorities in Pakistan are beginning to arrest parents for refusing to have their children vaccinated against polio.
So far, 471 parents have been arrested for "endangering public security," with warrants out for hundreds of others taking place during a new immunization drive. The effort is part of a crackdown on the disease, which continues to run rampant throughout the country.
Parents who refused to vaccinate their children were quickly sent to jail, where it is said by police that they will be swiftly dealt with, being released only after issuing a written apology and promising to allow their children to receive the immunization drops.
The Pakistani government has declared "war" on the disease. "We have decided to deal with the refusal cases with iron hands. Anyone who refuses will be sent to jail," said Riaz Khan Mehsud, deputy commissioner of Peshawar.
The immunization drive plans to vaccinate over 2.7 million children throughout the province.
Last year, 306 new cases were recorded in the country, the highest rate in 14 years. There have been 13 cases reported so far for 2015, mostly within the northwest portion of Pakistan. The increase has led to added pressure from international donors such as Rotary International to ensure that all children in the country receive the vaccination.
Rotary's National PolioPlus Chair for Pakistan, Aziz Memon, said the effort to vaccinate has seen a decrease in recent years due to security concerns and political turmoil.
"We are almost done," said Memon. "Pakistan is a tumbling block and hopefully in a year you will see that the plans we have we will be able to give you some good news."
He went on to say that he is confident the country can overcome the disease in the coming years, citing a past immunization drive that almost saw the country become polio-free in 2012.
Despite the efforts, religious groups across the country see the campaign as a Western effort to sterilize Muslims, while Islamic militants believe it to be espionage in disguise. The views come from a 2011 disclosure that the Central Intelligence Agency had introduced a fake hepatitis drive in the country in an effort to find al-Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden.
The groups have retaliated against the new drive with attacks on polio teams and bans on the immunization. Over 70 health workers and security personnel have died so far from the attacks, writes Jibran Ahmad for Reuters.
Concerns for the safety of health workers caused a 10-day polio immunization campaign to be postponed earlier this week.