Extremist Islamic Superstitions Fueling a Resurgence of Polio

Once thought to be on the brink of eradication worldwide, Polio, a crippling disease which targets children and can lead to partial or full paralysis, is now making a comeback in Muslim-majority countries, due to war, social unrest and religious superstition.

In recent months, outbreaks have been growing in Somalia, Afghanistan, Nigeria and a number of other developing Muslim-majority countries where access to polio vaccines is very limited. To make matters worse, extremist groups such as the Taliban have denounced the Western polio-vaccine teams as, “un-Islamic or Western purveyors of poison meant to sterilize Muslim women.”

Earlier this week, 11 members of a vaccination team were kidnapped by militants in northwest Pakistan. According to a report from The Express Tribune, a cleric from the Punjab province in Pakistan warned that, “jihad would be launched against polio vaccination teams, whose mission he labeled a Western conspiracy.”

Extremism isn’t the only obstacle, however. In Somalia, teams have had trouble getting to children because of the complications of a civil war in which many militant leaders block deliveries of food and medicine to the villages of their enemies. In Nigeria, there have been reports of parents refusing to let their children be vaccinated unless the vaccination teams give more benefits.

This Year’s Polio Cases from the Center for Disease Control (click to enlarge)

The resurgence of this deadly disease is prompting some polio-free countries to demand that visitors from high-risk countries get vaccinated upon arrival at the airport if they’re unable to prove they’ve been previously vaccinated.

According to the Center for Disease Control, there have already been 347 documented cases of polio this year, compared to just 223 last year. But the much more frightening figure: 224 of this year’s cases have been in non-endemic countries (ie. countries that have had extremely low numbers of polio cases in recent years), compared to only 6 last year.

To read the full article from USA Today, click this link.

For more information on polio, check out the CDC’s polio page.

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