"The parents of 24,000 children in northern Pakistan refused to allow health workers to administer polio vaccinations last month, mostly due to rumours that the harmless vaccine was an American plot to sterilise innocent Muslim children.
The disinformation - spread by extremist clerics using mosque loudspeakers and illegal radio stations, and by word of mouth - has caused a sharp jump in polio cases in Pakistan and hit global efforts to eradicate the debilitating disease.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recorded 39 cases of polio in Pakistan in 2006, up from 28 in 2005. The disease is concentrated in North-West Frontier Province, where 60% of the refusals were attributed to "religious reasons".
"It was very striking. There was a lot of anti-American propaganda as well as some misconceptions about sterilisation," said Dr Sarfaraz Afridi, a campaign manager with the WHO in Peshawar.
The scaremongering and appeals to Islam echoed a similar campaign in the Nigerian state of Kano in 2003, where the disease then spread to 12 polio-free countries over the following 18 months. Pakistan is one of just four countries where polio remains endemic. The others are Nigeria, India and Afghanistan."
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