Efforts like the one being led by Bill Gates and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg have reduced the number of children paralyzed by the polio virus from 350,000 in 1998 to fewer than 225 cases in 2012.
But the last remnants of the the debilitating disease must be wiped out in Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, or else it will make a comeback.
Radical islamic militants are preventing that from happening by attacking clinics, health workers, and police who travel with vaccinators to administer the vaccine to children.
Earlier this month in northern Nigeria, armed men linked to Islamist extremist group Boko Haram killed nine people at a clinic after a local cleric denounced polio vaccination campaigns and local radio programs saying the campaigns are part of a foreign plot to sterilize Muslims.
The province, Kona, is now the epicenter of polio infections in Africa as it has refused to participate in the vaccination campaign.
The cultural suspicions may be even messier in Pakistan where came to light that CIA hired a Pakistani doctor to give out hepatitis B vaccine in Abbottabad in March 2011 in an apparent effort to get DNA samples from Osama bin Laden’s hide-out.
"Boko Haram and the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan share a common ideology and common strategy and ... their targets are similar," Shehu Sani, president of the Civil Rights Congress of Nigeria, told the Guardian. "Boko Haram have targeted police stations, politicians, religious clerics who speak out against them and people engaging in polio vaccination programmes."
The tactics have been effective as polio infections have doubled in Pakistan since 2009, new cases are on the rise in Afghanistan, and a polio virus traced to Pakistan was recently found in sewers in Cairo, Egypt (which hasn't seen a case since 2004).
"Polio's pretty special because once you get an eradication you no longer have to spend money on it," Gates told The Times of India. "It's just there as a gift for the rest of time ... All you need is over 90 percent of children to have the vaccine drop three times and the disease stops spreading ... The great thing about finishing polio is that we'll have resources to get going on malaria and measles."
David Scales of The Disease Daily notes that the key to success in the remaining infected areas is "regaining trust of both the local people and religious leaders," which led northern Nigeria to resume polio vaccinations after a 2003 boycott. Until then, the polio teams need more protection.
Pakistanis aren't so optimistic about solving it through cultural outreach.
"There is only one lasting solution to this and that is to militarily defeat the Taliban once and for all," according to an editorial in the Pakistan Express Tribune.
Polio, a highly infectious viral disease that can cause permanent paralysis in a matter of hours, usually infects children living in unsanitary conditions.
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