Despite Threats, a Push to Eliminate Polio in Pakistan
There are only two countries in the world where polio still holds its devastating grip – Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Americans reaching retirement age today are the last to remember just how ominous the threat of the disease was during their childhood. Polio affects the nerves, resulting in paralysis of the arms, legs or the diaphragm, which controls breathing. Between two and five percent of people who develop paralytic polio will die.
We have the Salk (1955) and Sabin (1962) vaccines to thank for polio’s near-eradication.
Today Pakistan accounts for more than 70 percent of the world's cases of polio. But last week over 100,000 health workers traveled across Pakistan in a drive to eliminate the polio virus this year. The aim is to finish vaccinating every child in the country by the end of May.
But these health workers face more opposition than suspicion about vaccination, itself. The effort to eliminate polio in Pakistan has been compromised, as polio workers have faced attacks by militants who say the health teams are Western spies -- or that the vaccines they administer are intended to sterilize children. In January, a suicide bomber killed at least 15 people outside a polio eradication center in the western city of Quetta, with two militant groups claiming responsibility.
The image of vaccination was tainted after a CIA-employed Pakistani doctor used the guise of a vaccination campaign to spy on Osama bin Laden in the months before the raid that killed the terrorist.
Just the same, progress is being made. Statistics show that attacks on the immunization teams have started to decline in the face of improving community acceptance and coordination with security forces.