Women Play Key Role In Defeating Polio, Other Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

In an opinion piece in The Atlantic, Haider Javed Warraich, a resident in internal medicine at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and an author, discusses the challenges posed by people who do not believe in vaccination, from the views of actor Jenny McCarthy in the U.S. to the negative impact of the Taliban’s and other Islamic fundamentalist’s opposition to polio vaccinations. “The global battle against polio lends itself well to the grisly metaphors of war. In many ways, the worldwide campaign to eradicate the disease has mirrored the fight against terrorism.” He notes challenges to vaccination in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria, the three remaining polio-endemic countries.

Warraich describes the violent attacks on and killing of women vaccinators working in Pakistan, writing, “The women of Pakistan are far from collateral damage in this war. … [T]he women of Pakistan have shown up where many of their men never dare trespass.” He continues, “The challenge to vaccination in the United States is an entirely different one, and much of it has the effectiveness of vaccination itself to blame,” as people forget the devastating impact of disease once it is eliminated. “Similar to Pakistan though, women, in their role as mothers and advocates, are the key to battling anti-vaccination propaganda, such as the link to autism that has been fully debunked,” Warraich writes, concluding, “In many ways, the war on polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases is likely to be just as consequential as the fight against global terror” (7/30).