Polio: why is it a problem in Pakistan?

By Matthias Samuel

What is polio and how the vaccine works

Basically, (poliomyelitis) polio or infantile paralysis, is an infectious disease caused by the poliovirus. In about 0.5 percent of cases there is muscle weakness resulting in an inability to move. The virus enters through the mouth in the throat, then moves into the bloodstream and is carried to the central nervous system where it produces a replica of itself and destroys the motor neuron cells. Motor neurons control the muscles for swallowing, circulation, respiration, and the arms, and legs. The virus can also cause paralysis and death in its most severe forms.

The polio virus is weakened in laboratories. The main idea is that when a virus enters that body, our system reacts to it. After some time the body creates a defense mechanism against that particular virus, our system gets used to it. The vaccine is made with the same concept, polio virus is weakened in laboratories and that it is used as a vaccine, so that whenever a strong virus hits our system, it is already prepared to fight back. In some cases the polio virus enters the system but doesn’t affect, it is because of the immune system of that person, it is strong enough to fight the virus.

Why polio is a problem in Pakistan

Pakistan is one of only three remaining countries in the world which still have ongoing poliovirus transmission, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria. In Pakistan, polio is not just a bad disease but it is also a very big problem of our country.

The problem arises in this department when the polio department is used for political interests or when people do not have proper knowledge and when our, those religious teachers who literally have no idea, teach people and give them the wrong idea.

The biggest example of the misuse of polio department is when, CIA (central intelligence agency) conducted a covert operation to capture Osama bin laden. Shakeel Afridi, a Pakistani physician who helped the CIA run a fake hepatitis and polio vaccine program in Abbottabad, Pakistan, to confirm Osama bin Laden’s presence in the city by obtaining DNA samples. These are the things which hurt the feeling of a person and ultimately they do not trust the organizations.

However, Pakistan has come a long way in its struggle to remove polio. In the early 90s, our country had more than 20,000 cases a year. The number of cases has declined from 306 in 2014 to 54 in 2015, 20 in 2016, 8 in 2017, and 12 in 2018. So far in 2019, 45 cases have been reported.


Matthias Samuel is a student of history in Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU) Islamabad, and occasionally writes blogs and articles.