Taliban In Pakistan Derails World Polio Eradication
Last January Salma Jaffar was shot while she was going door-to-door in Karachi, giving children drops of the polio vaccine.
"Even when they took out the pistol, I couldn’t understand why he was taking out the gun," Jaffar says of the two men who pulled up on a motorcycle and started shooting at the vaccination team.
"But when he opened fire, that is when I thought it was the end of the life," she says. "My first thought was that I won’t be able to see my children again."
Jaffar was shot four times: twice in her arm and twice in her chest. She spent the next three weeks in an intensive care unit.
Three of her colleagues weren’t as fortunate and died in the attack. They are among the more than 60 polio workers who have been killed since the Pakistani Taliban banned polio immunization in 2012.
Today the militant group continues to threaten to kill not only vaccinators, but also parents who get their children immunized. That threat has had a chilling effect on anti-polio efforts nationwide. And it completely halted vaccination drives in some Taliban-controlled areas. It’s in these places that the crippling virus has come roaring back — and threatened to stymie global efforts to wipe out polio.
The worldwide campaign to eradicate polio has been going on for more than two decades. It has cost more than $10 billion. Now the success of the campaign hinges on whether Pakistan can control the virus.
At its peak in the 1950s, polio paralyzed about 350,000 people a year around the world. This year, so far, there have been only 128 cases recorded. Ninety-nine of them have been in Pakistan. And the South Asian nation is the only country in the world where the number of polio cases is rising significantly.
Photo: A health worker gives a child the polio vaccine in Bannu, Pakistan, June 25. More than a quarter million children in Taliban-controlled areas are likely to miss their immunizations. (A Majeed/AFP/Getty Images)