In Pakistan's Polio Epicenter, Workers Struggle against Threats and Suspicion

Map of Pakistan

Health workers in Peshawar face militant attacks and resistance from some locals. Pakistan is one of three nations where the virus is spreading beyond its borders.

On the second floor of a local dispensary in Peshawar, Dr. Sheda Hussain stands in front of a 50-person immunization team of female health workers and technicians. Flicking through three Power Point presentations, he guides them through the process they must follow during their visits to homes around the city.

In two weeks, the government-funded Lady Health Workers will take part in a provincial immunization campaign against measles. As the women go door to door, they will also distribute polio drops to unvaccinated children and newborn babies for the first time, Mr. Hussain says.

Peshawar is on the front-lines of Pakistan’s polio battle. Ninety percent of Pakistan's polio cases were genetically traced to the city earlier this year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO called the city the “world’s largest reservoir” of the virus.

Two years ago, polio was nearly eradicated across the globe. On Monday, the WHO declared a global health emergency, saying those gains could be lost if Pakistan, Syria, and Cameroon did not crack down on the virus, which has spread across their borders this year.

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