Pakistan (actually) battles to #vaccinate children against #polio while America "debates" the benefits of vaccinations

Friday, February 20, 2015

Extolling the benefits of vaccination - and decrying the utter lunacy of the "debate" on their safety and efficacy that the American media continues to perpetuate - will soon become an old hat (if it hasn't already), but the ongoing struggle to eradicate polio in Pakistan has a funny way of putting it all into perspective. While "crunchy" California moms explain to the New York Times that they allow their children to get sick with preventable diseases because they do not want to inject them with "toxins," community health workers in Pakistan (particularly its northwestern tribal region) risk their lives to inoculate as many children as possible. Sadly, these workers battle the same types of rumors and misinformation, albeit for very different reasons.
Long eradicated in the West, polio remains endemic in Pakistan after the Taliban banned vaccinations, attacks targeted medical staffers and suspicions lingered about the inoculations.

The persistence of this crippling, sometimes fatal virus shows just how difficult wiping out a disease can be, even amid campaigns seeing thousands of vaccinators go into the field to offer polio drops to children, sometimes under armed guard.
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But instead of parents' groups worried about autism and celebrities relying on a discredited scientific article like in the U.S., Pakistan's anti-vaccine campaign has been waged at the end of the barrel of an assault rifle. The Pakistani Taliban banned vaccinations in 2012 after U.S. Navy SEALs launched a raid in Abbottabad in 2011 that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. Ahead of the raid, the CIA sent in a local doctor who claimed to be conducting a hepatitis vaccine program to collect DNA from children at bin Laden's home. That sparked widespread distrust, in a country where many also fear the inoculations are a plot to sterilize Muslim children.

By December 2012, militant gunmen began targeting vaccination teams in what became a "horrendous serial killing," said Elias Durry, the World Health Organization's point person in Pakistan on polio. An estimated 75 people involved in Pakistan's vaccination efforts have been killed since, Safdar said. On Tuesday, authorities in Pakistan's Baluchistan province found the bullet-riddled bodies of four people who disappeared Saturday while preparing for a polio campaign.

Infected children and others who travel outside of the region can lead to fresh outbreaks in cities — and even other countries — where polio has already been wiped out. Outside of Pakistan, only Afghanistan and Nigeria are countries where polio remains endemic.
I personally wish the CIA's ridiculous half-baked plot to find bin Laden under the cover of a fake vaccination program received half as much attention as self-styled anti-vaccine advocates who make up their science as they go along. If only.

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