In Australia, North America and Europe, we don’t worry much about polio. Vaccination has eradicated this terrible, paralysing disease in the developed world. But, far away, the poliomyelitis virus still thrives. Wired accompanied the teams that hope to wipe out polio in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The story is compelling.
In the fight to prevent a polio outbreak, World Health Organization and UNICEF workers must also battle disorganised and corrupt governments, rudimentary local health infrastructure, and most chillingly, Taliban opposition. Twenty-two members of vaccine teams have been killed in Pakistan since 2012, the public health campaign being condemned as a sinister American plot. Wired’s Matthieu Aikins explains the challenges in simply finding where outbreaks occur:
Since Afghanistan’s public health care system is almost nonexistent in many rural and remote areas, [the WHO vaccination team] recruited all sorts of locals to whom parents are likely to bring a sick child: mullahs, shrine keepers, pharmacists, faith healers, and travelling quacks. They’ve been given basic training and are paid a reward of about $US5 for reporting a confirmed case of paralytic polio.
Still, public health workers strive to achieve the vaccination levels that have stopped transmission of the disease in Australia, North America, Europe, and in 2011 India. To do this, they must reach over 90 per cent of the population. The further they reach into the most remote parts of the world, the harder that job becomes. Wired’s five-part story, complete with piercing photography and first-person audio accounts, is a must-read. [Wired]
Picture: AP Photo / Allauddin Khan