Special challenges have become apparent in three nations where polio remains endemic: Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan. But in Pakistan, a renewed effort to tackle misperceptions about the vaccine appears to be working, say experts speaking this week at the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
Worldwide, there were 177 polio cases through October of this year, a drop from 502 during the same period last year. In Pakistan, cases fell from 198 in 2011 to 56 so far this year. International public health leaders hope that polio will become the second human disease, after smallpox, to be completely eradicated.
But these efforts will come to nothing if they cannot eradicate the disease in the three countries mentioned above. So why the difficulty?
Dr. Anita Zaidi, a pediatrician at Aga Khan University University in Karachi, who serves on Pakistan’s National Immunization Technical Advisory Group, told Take Part. After an intense effort to track down unimmunized people and offer free vaccine, health leaders in Pakistan now say the problem is only partly one of access. Too many people flat-out refuse the vaccine, she says.
Why do they refuse?
The vaccination effort has been hampered by false rumors circulating in some communities that immunizations cause sterility or contaminated with HIV. Vaccine resistance is especially strong in the Pashtun population .
There is also the belief that vaccination is a Western conspiracy and there are some events, including the murder and kidnap of vaccine workers, that are great cause for concern.
Experts now fear they will miss 2013 eradication targets but are hopeful that this will simply be a delay.