Taliban anti-vaccine push raises risk of polio outbreak

The past 6 months have brought mixed news for the campaign to eliminate polio. In April, scientists set a 2018 target for eradicating the disease, but since then Israel has fought a potential outbreak, cases have spread across Africa and the Taliban has upped its fight against vaccinators in Pakistan.

Events in Pakistan are a particular worry. The Taliban denounced vaccines as a Western plot to sterilize Muslims in June 2012--in part as a reaction against the fake immunization campaign used in the hunt for Osama Bin Laden--and banned inoculation. Since then, attacks on vaccinators have made it difficult to protect children, particularly in pockets of the country controlled by the Taliban. In North Waziristan, near the Afghan border, polio has reportedly crippled dozens of children over the past 6 months.

For now, these outbreaks are contained, but with authorities finding the polio virus in sewage samples in major cities, there are fears the disease will spread. "The risk is that as long as the virus is still circulating, and as long as we have no means of reaching these children and immunizing them to interrupt virus transmission, it could jeopardize everything that has been done so far, not only in Pakistan, but also in the region and around the globe," Elias Durry, head of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in Pakistan, told Reuters.

Israel also found the virus in sewage samples and subsequently intensified its vaccination efforts. South Sudan--which only became an independent country in 2011--is also trying to coordinate an inoculation campaign. The country recently reported three cases of polio, and its proximity to the outbreak on the Horn of Africa puts it at risk. Vaccination plans are complicated by fighting in some parts of the country. The Sudanese army plans to stop fighting to allow vaccinators to work in the rebel-held parts of the country, Sudan Tribune reports.

- read the Reuters article
- here's the Sudan Tribune piece