Nearly 500 people were arrested Monday in Pakistan for refusing to allow their children to be vaccinated against polio, officials said.
It is the first such measure by authorities, who have stepped up the campaign against the disease that surged last year, sparking travel restrictions.
The arrests were made in the north-western city of Peshawar and adjacent districts at the start of a three-day regional vaccination campaign, local administration chief Riaz Mehsud said.
“We have detained all those parents and elders who have refused vaccine to their kids,” Mehsud told dpa.
The government would now have zero tolerance for vaccine refusal, Health Minister Saira Afzal Tarar said in Islamabad.
Pakistan recorded 303 polio cases in 2014, up from 93 a year earlier, according to Ayesha Raza Farooq, of the government’s End Polio initiative.
More than 90 percent of victims were from the restive region on the Afghan border, where gunmen linked with al-Qaeda often attack health workers vaccinating children, or parents refuse vaccination.
The government is under pressure to end the endemic after the World Health Organization (WHO) last year made polio vaccination mandatory for all Pakistanis travelling abroad.
Polio has been eradicated in most countries, but remains endemic in Pakistan, Afghanistan and to a lesser extent Nigeria.
Extremists allege that vaccination campaigns by national and international health workers are a ploy by opponents of Islam to sterilize Muslims.