ISLAMABAD – Polio virus has not yet been eradicated from the world, but it was once for many decades a disease that terrorised the world. Globally the virus is almost on the verge of extinction because of great achievements and modern medical science.
But polio still stubbornly remains in three countries – Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria- where communities, alongside local and international authorities, are making rigorous efforts to remove the last remaining pockets of the virus.
According to some experts in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the biggest obstacle is the mistrust of the western governments, rather than the lack of money used by the donor agencies for the vaccines to fight the virus, reported by The Guardian.
Now since Donald Trump stepped into the white house, it could cause to deepen that mistrust. US president has made aggressive threats to take a harder line on Pakistan, he will undoubtedly incite anti-US sentiments, which in past have taken many polio workers lives and have provoked many tribal leaders to ban vaccination campaigns.
This would not be the first time the US has come in the way of the war against polio.
The biggest blow polio’s eradication campaign has faced was in 2011 when the CIA invented a fake hepatitis vaccination campaign as a part of it efforts to find Osama bin Laden. The scam that was later exposed led Talibans to issuing fatwas and murdering dozens of health workers. In 2014, Pakistan has recorded that more than 300 polio cases.
But even before the fake hepatitis vaccination campaign, polio was seen to have made its way with more cases, and was coinciding with US’s intensified drone campaign.
Polio cases emerged more in 2008 as the drone strikes spiked. When drone strikes reached up to 128 in 2008 the number of polio cases the following year reached to staggering 198.
Since the US led drone strikes decreased and has become rare since 2014, the fight against polio has bounced back. In 2016, the number of children affected with polio virus around the world was only 37, 20 of them were in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, in his recently announced South Asia strategy, Trump signaled a tougher line on Pakistan: “We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting. But that will have to change, and that will change immediately,” he said.
Trump has indicated likeness for airpower which is eminent in Afghanistan where the US is dropping more bombs than at any point since 2012.
Monica Martinez-Bravo, a researcher at CEMFI and co-author of a newspaper on mistrust of vaccines said, “It is hard to predict how local communities will respond to health workers if bombings pick up”.
Martinez-Bravo has documented the precision and correlation between support for Islamist groups, especially during the air strikes by the US and decline of immunisation rates.
“Everything the US does that reduces trust will damage the vaccination campaigns,” she said.
Bombings block the access for immunisers, and insurgents have used polio to demand a halt to airstrikes in return for allowing vaccinations.
Recently, Kunduz in northern Afghanistan which is heavily controlled by the Taliban banned inoculators for 15 months, relenting only when a 14-month-old girl contracted polio.
Polio virus affects children under the age of five, and it is incurable. The virus causes paralysis, sometimes within the hours of the onset of infection. It often hits legs and spin, but can also leads to death by immobilising breathing muscles.
Global Polio Eradication Initiative was launched in 1988; an estimated 16 million people were saved from the paralysis, and 1.5 million children from death.
Polio virus can flourish and spread if there are no sustainable efforts to control the disease. For every known case, about 200 people can carry the disease without any symptoms.
According to the Guardian, the virus wanders in the environment. Sarwat Boobak, area coordinator for WHO, stated that her team had detected wild polio, a sign that people are still shedding the virus.