Africa and Pakistan Face Polio Outbreaks, in Blow to Global Fight

Donald G. McNeil Jr., New York Times, August 23, 2013

The global effort to eradicate polio, a disease that has been on the brink of extinction for years, is facing serious setbacks on two continents. The virus is surging in Somalia and the Horn of Africa, which had been largely free of cases for several years. And a new outbreak has begun in a part of Pakistan that a warlord declared off limits to vaccinators 14 months ago.

The African outbreak began in May with just two cases of polio paralysis: one in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, and another in the huge Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, where thousands of Somalis have fled fighting between Islamic militants, clan militias, government troops and African peacekeepers.

Now there are 121 cases in the region; last year, there were only 223 in the world.

The new Pakistan outbreak is in North Waziristan, near the frontier with Afghanistan. It is in an area where a warlord banned polio vaccinations after it was disclosed that the C.I.A. had staged a hepatitis vaccination campaign in its hunt for Osama bin Laden. The warlord, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, banned all efforts until American drone strikes ended.

Although only three North Waziristan children have suffered polio paralysis since then, even one case shows that the virus is in the area and could spread.

The new outbreaks may delay a recently announced $5.5 billion plan to eradicate polio by 2018. {snip}


The Pakistan outbreak is particularly frustrating because eradication had been going steadily forward despite the killings in December of nine vaccinators for which some blamed the Taliban.

Public health officials had counted themselves lucky that despite simultaneous vaccination bans in North and South Waziristan, no polio virus was known to be circulating in the 250,000 children in those areas. Vaccination posts were set up on nearby highways and on buses and trains. Urban hospitals packed the vaccine on ice for families willing to smuggle it back to neighbors. But it was not enough.

“The equation is simple,” said Dr. Elias Durry, emergency coordinator for polio eradication in Pakistan for the World Health Organization. “Where you can immunize, the virus goes away. Where you can’t, the virus gets in, and it will paralyze these poor kids.”


Before the Waziristan outbreak, Pakistan had seen only 24 cases this year, about as many as it had at the same point in 2012. Most were around Karachi and Peshawar, where last year’s killings of the vaccinators took place and where resistance to vaccines is highest.

The Somali outbreak is different. There is little opposition to the vaccine itself, said Dr. Bruce Aylward, the W.H.O. assistant director general for polio. In several Muslim countries, including Pakistan, the drive has been hurt by rumors that the vaccine sterilizes girls or contains the virus that causes AIDS or pork products.

But, he said, many cases are in areas south of Mogadishu where the Shabab, a militant group, operate. The group opposes mass campaigns because it believes the sight of thousands of vaccinators going house to house would undercut its claim to rule those areas.


Instead, the campaign negotiates with local chiefs and midlevel Shabab members to hold small drives.


Refugee camps face other obstacles. Large ones often have lawless areas on their fringes where vaccinators may fear to work because of predatory criminals.

“When this started, I said, ‘Brace yourself for hundreds of cases,’ ” Dr. Aylward said, because he knew that few children born in the last five years had been immunized.


Somalia is so dangerous for health workers that Doctors Without Borders pulled out of the country this month after 22 years there. But polio officials hope their campaign will not be targeted, largely because it creates thousands of temporary paying jobs for “volunteer” vaccinators.


Topics: , , ,

Share This

We welcome comments that add information or perspective, and we encourage polite debate. If you log in with a social media account, your comment should appear immediately. If you prefer to remain anonymous, you may comment as a guest, using a name and an e-mail address of convenience. Your comment will be moderated.
  • IstvanIN

    As long as we get immunized I say good.

    • That’s right, I can walk right through the middle of a polio outbreak, and not get sick.

  • Spartacus

    Can we please stop interfering and let nature take it’s course ?

    • me


  • Don’t be fooled. Here’s what I think. The CDC keeps those nasty diseases around just in case they ever need them. Release polio and smallpox upon the third world when needed, and call it a surprise outbreak. Affirmative Action doctors aren’t smart enough to suspect anything.

    • IstvanIN

      I wish the CDC were that smart.

    • Strider73

      Why bother with the 3rd World? Imagine what they could do with that stuff right here. If you haven’t already seen V for Vendetta, please do so — with special emphasis given to the “St. Mary’s virus.” As Rahm Emanuel (and others) in the current regime have often said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” Heck, we saw a dress rehearsal in 2009 with the phony swine flu “pandemic.”

    • Actually, viruses like polio and smallpox have no natural reservoirs except humans, so they are eminently subject to being made extinct. I can completely understand why someone would want to wipe out large swaths of the Fourth World (mea culpa), but there are better ways of doing it than with polio.

      I’d pick one of the Hantavirus-type hemorrhagic fevers, and/or multiple strains of dengue. There are four different strains of dengue, and surviving one confers immunity to that strain – but only that strain. Reinfection with a different strain causes the autoimmune system to self-destruct: very lethal.

      I figure if these Afghanitards want polio, let them have it.

    • GeneticsareDestiny

      I don’t really see what the point of doing this would be. It would be much easier to wipe out people in the Third World simply by cutting off all food and monetary aid.

  • dd121

    I worked with a woman who contracted polio as a child in the 60s. I asked her what she thought of her mother who wouldn’t spend 50 cents on her for polio vaccine. She didn’t answer.

    • me

      I’m assuming the lady was White–otherwise, the government would have given her daughter free medical insurance and free vaccines.

  • NeanderthalDNA

    Time to build the wall.

  • Strider73

    Here is another example of “blowback” from US “intelligence” activities. What the article dances around is that the CIA was collecting DNA on local kids in the hunt for OBL; the vaccinations were a cover. I would not be surprised if the “vaccines” were in fact placebos. Now no one in that part of the world will trust any Western doctors for decades to come, and with good reason.

    • Who cares?

      If they want their kids crippled by polio, it’s no skin off my nose. Perhaps it should be made illegal in Western countries for our doctors to travel to flyblown failed states to help anyone, punishable by ten years’ incarceration, should they ever return. I want a lower population growth in the Fourth World, not higher. Otherwise, we’d end up with more of them demanding to come here!

  • IKantunderstand

    Best news in days. I hope the recalcitrance to become inoculated spreads over the so called “third” world (third, really, third? Have they been cheating on tests? There is no way they even come in third). I mean, come on, don’t you think the Africans are behind the dolphins? The elephants?Talk about a more structured, civil, society. I think Africa is at best, fifth world. Two worlds behind sophisticated mammals.

    • Well, back in the day, the First World was the developed West, plus Japan after they recovered from WW-2. The Second World was the Communist Bloc, less China. The Third World was everyone else. South Korea and Taiwan have joined the First World, and with the end of the Cold War, so has eastern Europe. Russia still mainly exports raw materials, but we have a loose designation of BRICs nations: Brazil, Russia, India and China that are improving. The “whiter” nations in Latin America – Argentina and Chile are struggling, and Brazil for its size still has the question of negritude to answer.

      Older definitions don’t quite apply, but if the BRICs are now the Second World, and nations with strong potential but limited means and erratic governments (Argentina) are the Third, then what about the rest? I’d add Turkey to the BRICs, and Iran if they could ditch their obsessive-compulsive government. Mexico could be there too, if not for the awful corruption and general Mestizo violence there.

      I refer to nations that are not developing at all as “Third World”. Nations that are regressing are thus “Fourth World”.

      You might be correct about a Fifth World. I would like to nominate Haiti.

      • IKantunderstand

        Although impressed with your thoughtful analysis, I was making a joke.

      • Norseman

        I remember the expression “Fourth World” beeing used about nature people who sustain themselves by hunting and gathering.

        My impression is that Chile is doing rather well economically by Latin American standards. It is also one of the few countries in the region with “tolerable” crime levels.

        • I like Argentinians and Chileans. They are white enough for me. My Spanish is very bad, however, and I don’t like seeing Orion upside-down.

  • me

    Yeah, isn’t that peculiar? Of course, most people have a very short memory. No one in our family gets any vaccines that aren’t absolutely necessary.

  • Papua New Guinea is certainly Fifth World. Port Moresby is rated as one of the world’s “least livable” cities.

  • I know of several ways to give people cancer, and these do not require injections. My ex-father is full of cancer, even though I had nothing to do with that.

  • Any place there are mice, there are Hantaviruses. I would pick Hantaan, Junin, Machupo and “No Names” virus all at once, if I was going to commit biological warfare.

  • StillModerated

    “Civilized” can mean different things to different people. African civilizations practice cannibalism. Their civilization is horrible. Finland is a great place to live because its people are good. Their civilization is fine.

  • Formerly_Known_as_Whiteplight

    Nature keeps trying to select the least worthy for survival and propagation, and “we” keep countering it. No aid, let them wither away from disease, but quarantine them (by staying away).