Polio – the highly contagious disease that causes paralysis in many children – is at last in decline in Pakistan, where it has been rife for decades. Health officials have seen a 62% drop in cases so far in 2016 – fantastic news to celebrate on International Polio day.
Pakistan made the fight against the disease a national priority, a commitment that many see as key to the steep decline in polio diagnoses.
Here, the fight against the virus is a hard fought one, with many obstacles to overcome. Syed, a vaccinator, whose face has been blurred for security reasons, knows all too well the struggle to keep up efforts to rid the country of the disease.
In 2012 he survived an assassination attempt made against health workers by the Taliban, who have denounced the anti-polio campaign as a western attempt to sterilise muslims.
“Recently,” Syed told euronews, “We have seen a marked improvement in campaigns against polio, thanks in part to the strengthening of security by the army of Pakistan.”
Since 2012, a total of 71 health workers and police officers have been killed by the Taliban during vaccination drives. Syed escaped one such attack, narrowly avoiding death after he was shot in the leg, but unfortunately one of his colleagues did not survive.
“The difficulties with the Taliban began after international provisions where introduced forbidding Pakistanis from travelling without being vaccinated,” Syed said.
“This is what provoked the Taliban to attack vaccinators,” he continued.
Syed emphasised that the majority of Pakistanis are not opposed to vaccinations against polio but says that the Taliban’s scare tactics have been working, and many children remain unprotected against polio.
“We operate in mountainous areas and the problem is that the children cannot access the clinics,” he said. “It is sad that mothers have to move into clinics with their child to get vaccinated due to the difficulty of access.”
There still remains no end in sight to Syed’s two decades of devotion to the fight against polio. For now he must return to Pakistan, where he will continue his mission.