Pakistan launched a new anti-polio drive on Monday. The initiative began more than a week after officials detected the third case so far this year in the country’s northwestern region bordering Afghanistan.
People contract the virus that causes polio through polluted water and food or by contact with an infected person. Poliomyelitis, the disease that results from infection, damages nerves in the spinal cord. It can cause paralysis and sometimes death. Many people who are infected with the poliovirus never show symptoms—yet they can spread it to others.
Plans to combat the viral spread include a vaccination campaign that will last five days. During that time, officials aim to inoculate 40 million children under the age of five across the country.
Pakistani officials discovered only one case of polio last year. That raised hopes that the country was close to eliminating the potentially fatal disease.
Officials have already carried out two anti-polio campaigns this year—one in January and one in March. But despite that effort, this year’s first case of infection was registered in April.
A statement from Dr. Shahbaz Baig, the spokesperson for the country’s polio program, urged parents to cooperate with polio workers in their door-to-door campaigns.
Pakistan’s anti-polio campaigns are regularly marked by violence. Islamic militants often target polio teams and the police assigned to protect them. They falsely claim the vaccination campaigns are a Western conspiracy to harm rather than help children.
During the March campaign, gunmen in northwestern Pakistan shot and killed a female health worker as she was returning home after a day of vaccinations. In January, gunmen shot and killed a police officer providing security for polio vaccination workers, also in the country’s northwest.
Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only remaining countries in the world still trying to eliminate polio, which most often affects children.
(A health worker gives a polio vaccine to a child in a neighborhood of Lahore, Pakistan, on Monday, May 23, 2022. AP/K.M. Chaudary)