Via The Guardian: Suspicion slows dangerous work to eradicate polio in Pakistan. Excerpt:
In the dense alleyways of Ittehad town on the outskirts of Karachi, the fastest growing city in Pakistan, Farhina Tousif is waging a losing battle with a mother over vaccinating her children against polio.
“Do you have any children in this household under the age of five?” Tousif calls through a curtain separating the male and female quarters of a conservative Pashtun family. “No,” comes the answer via a nine-year-old boy, who is translating between the national language, Urdu, and the woman’s native Pashtu.
“Sister, I know you have children because I can see your son there. For God’s sake, don’t be the enemy of your child – let me vaccinate him,” says Tousif. The answer from behind the curtain is still a firm no.
Tousif knows when she has lost, and moves swiftly on to the next house. But the unvaccinated child or children left behind are not the only ones at risk in a complicated and patchy effort to control the number of wild poliovirus cases found in Pakistan, which shot up from 58 in 2012 to 306 last year.
Since the Taliban issued a ban on vaccinations, and compared female health workers to prostitutes for working outside the home, more than 80 vaccinators and the armed guards assigned to protect them have been gunned down.
Tousif and others like her on the frontline of a battle to contain the disease have found their efforts entangled with women’s right to work, claims of US espionage, a barely adequate healthcare system and a deep distrust of authority. The challenges sometimes feel insurmountable, Tousif says.
“My colleagues risk their lives trying to help people, and get paid 500 rupees [£3.30] a day. I have to encourage them, like I do the mothers I see, to go out and work each time. It’s not the money, it’s the fact they don’t feel like we’re winning the war on polio. And when one of us dies, the number of vaccinators falls for months. But we need the money, so they usually come back.”
The Pakistani branch of the Taliban, the TTP, has seized on evidence that the vaccination campaign was used as cover by the CIA to gather intelligence. The US government said last year that the practice had stopped and the CIA director had instructed the agency “to make no operational use of vaccination programmes, which include vaccination workers”.
But rumours spread fast in Pakistan and prove near-impossible to debunk once they have taken hold. Communities such as the Pushtuns now associate polio vaccinators with CIA spies and US drones.