Inside the Push to Wipe Out Polio From the Furthest Corners of Earth

By Robert Sorokanich on at

If you live in North America or Europe, you don't worry much about polio. Thanks to vaccination, this terrible, paralysing disease has been eradicated in the first world. But far from these places, the poliomyelitis virus still lives. Wired accompanied the teams who hope to wipe out polio in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The story is compelling.

In the fight to prevent a polio outbreak, World Health Organization and UNICEF workers must also battle disorganised and corrupt governments, rudimentary local health infrastructure, and most chillingly, Taliban opposition. Twenty-two members of vaccine teams have been killed in Pakistan since 2012, the public health campaign being condemned as a sinister American plot. Wired's Matthieu Aikins explains the challenges in simply finding where outbreaks occur:

Since Afghanistan’s public health care system is almost nonexistent in many rural and remote areas, [the WHO vaccination team] recruited all sorts of locals to whom parents are likely to bring a sick child: mullahs, shrine keepers, pharmacists, faith healers, and traveling quacks. They’ve been given basic training and are paid a reward of about $5/£3 for reporting a confirmed case of paralytic polio.

Still, public health workers strive to achieve the vaccination levels that have stopped transmission of the disease in North America, Europe, and in 2011, India. To do this, they must reach over 90% of the population. The further they reach into the most remote parts of the world, the harder that job becomes. Wired's five-part story, complete with piercing photography and first-person audio accounts, is a must-read. [Wired]

Image: AP Photo / Allauddin Khan