PESHAWAR, Pakistan – Tiny Shamsa is a victim of the war against Islamist militants in northwest Pakistan, but it wasn't bullets or bombs that paralyzed her right leg. The 18-month-old contracted polio after fighting blocked vaccination teams from reaching her village.
In a country with no shortage of alarming statistics, here is another: Pakistan was the only country in 2010 to record an increase in cases of the crippling disease — 138, up from 89 in the previous year, according to World Health Organization figures. That made it the nation with the highest incidence of polio in the world.
Most cases were in the northwest close to the Afghan border, where battles between the U.S.-supported Pakistani army and Taliban fighters make many areas too dangerous to visit. The army bans travel to parts of the region, citing the security situation, and territory under militant control is highly dangerous for outsiders, even Pakistani aid workers.
In 2009, one Pakistan Taliban commander declared the vaccine un-Islamic, echoing a few conservative clerics in other Muslim countries. But others have not publicly stated any objections. In Afghanistan, the Taliban cooperate with health workers administering the vaccine, in part because doing so adds to the movement's legitimacy.
Polio was eradicated generations ago from the Western world, but remains endemic in Pakistan, neighboring Afghanistan and India, as well as Nigeria. Sometimes fatal and highly contagious, it can be prevented with a few drops of bitter vaccine on a child's tongue.
By ROD McGUIRK, Associated Press Rod Mcguirk, Associated Press – Fri Jan 14, 6:44 am ET