A day before World Polio Day on October 24, a 13-month-old baby was tested positive for the disease in Pakistan, according to a report released by the National Institute of Health, a government research facility.
While the rest of the world is on the brink of eradicating poliomyelitis, a highly infectious disease that can cause irreversible paralysis, it remains endemic in Pakistan, Nigeria, Afghanistan and possibly Syria.
The struggling polio drive in Pakistan, already stymied by terrorism, slowed down even further after Dr. Shakil Afridi, a 48-year-old physician, was arrested for helping the U.S. locate and eventually kill Al-Qaeda Chief Osama Bin Laden in May 2011.
Afridi allegedly carried out Hepatitis-B vaccinations which were a part of a clandestine U.S. intelligence plan to collect DNA samples. He also led bogus campaigns to immunize children against polio on the Afghan frontier and other areas of Pakistan.
His fake campaign, reportedly funded by the CIA, adversely affected the fight against polio in a country where a significant portion of the population believes that these drives are a Western plot to cause sterility in (Muslim) children.
In 2011, around 198 cases of polio were reported, the highest number for any nation in the world. The numbers went down by 70% in 2012, when only 58 cases were confirmed.
Due to the frequent killings of polio teams by terrorists the following year, the campaign in Pakistan greatly suffered, eventually leading to the suspension of the program in Peshawar by the World Health Organization (WHO) in May.
The majority of volunteers gunned down were lady health workers. In December 2012, four women were shot in the southern port city of Karachi, and the fifth in a village outside the north-western city of Peshawar. Almost six months later, another female polio worker was shot dead in May in the suburbs of Peshawar.
However, the determination of polio volunteers paid off and only 46 cases have been detected this year.
However, it is a far bleaker picture in the tribal areas of the country. According to, Elias Durry who is the head of Polio Eradication at WHO, almost 260,000 children have not been vaccinated since 2012 when Taliban imposed a ban on immunization in North and South Waziristan.
Consequently, Durry noted, 14 innocent children have been paralyzed for life and the threat of an outbreak could endanger the lives and future of many more.
“A historic poliovirus ‘tsunami’ is unfolding in Pakistan,” Durry stated.
While neighboring country India is just four months away from being declared polio-free by the WHO, Pakistan, along with West Africa and Afghanistan, remains plagued by the crippling disease.
The only way to eradicate polio from these countries has to be a joint effort by all the stakeholders, the government, the public (parents) and even militants like the Taliban.