Pockets of polio remain frustrating health workers

The global scourge of polio has been virtually eradicated, reaching historically low numbers this year. But pockets of the disease remain in South Asia and Africa because of the refusal of some parents to immunize their children.

International public health officials counted 177 polio cases worldwide for the first 10 months of this year. That’s a drop from just over 500 cases in 2011. Public health officials credit the drop to successful immunization campaigns against the illness, which attacks the nervous system and can cause partial or total paralysis. The malady has disappeared from most countries where it was once epidemic. For example, in India, there have been no cases of polio reported in two years.

But in neighboring Pakistan and Afghanistan, and in Nigeria, West Africa, reservoirs of the viral illness remain. Experts say that is due to the refusal of many parents to vaccinate their children against the infection.

Anita Zaidi is head of pediatrics at Aga Khan University in Karachi, Pakistan. She said 74 percent of Pashtun or ethnic Afghan children go unvaccinated because many parents believe the immunization is harmful.

“They believe that it can cause sterility in their children or that it’s a conspiracy to sterilize Muslim populations so that their population growth falls . . . . “

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