News Outlets Examine Challenges To Fighting Polio In Pakistan, Nigeria

In Pakistan, one of only three nations worldwide where polio remains endemic, “rumors and conspiracy theories about the vaccine … have helped the country maintain its unenviable status,” recording 91 cases of the disease in 2011, Agence France-Presse reports. Most cases of the disease this year have been recorded in the Pashtun tribal areas in the northwest of the country, “where education is limited and deeply conservative values hold sway,” the news service writes, adding, “People in the area were already deeply distrustful of foreign intervention, and suspicions soared even further last year after the CIA used a hepatitis inoculation program as cover to try to find Osama bin Laden.” According to AFP, “[f]ighting between government troops and tribal militias in the northwest, as well the Taliban banning inoculations in protest at U.S. drone strikes, have also hampered efforts to fight the disease.” Health care workers are educating the public to build trust, and UNICEF is recruiting religious leaders to advocate for polio vaccination, the news service notes (Abdul, 9/29).

In Nigeria, another endemic country, health care workers have seen an increase in the number of polio cases in the north, “where authorities are already dealing with the unrest caused by the militant group Boko Haram,” VOA News reports. Frank Mahoney, chief health officer for polio response at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “said the rise in polio in northern Nigeria is particularly worrying because nomadic life-styles and cross-border trade are common there, and the disease could spread to other countries,” according to the news service. In addition, the safety of health care workers is threatened, and they “struggle with access to remote, transitory communities, he says,” VOA states. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan was in New York last week to attend U.N. meetings on polio eradication, the news service notes (Murdock, 9/28).