PESHAWAR, Pakistan—After decades of work, polio had been wiped out almost everywhere in the world. All that was left were pockets in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Medical experts hoped 2020 would be the last year that the main form of the virus, which can permanently paralyze or cause death, posed a threat.
The coronavirus pandemic put a halt to that progress.
In March, house-to-house vaccination teams working across Pakistan were forced to stop their work because of Covid-19. As a result, polio resurged, including a mutated form of the virus. It has now been detected in samples taken from sewers in 74% of Pakistan in late 2020, up from just 13% in early 2018.
“Now the virus isn’t just in select pockets. The risk is everywhere” in the country, said Rana Safdar, the doctor in charge of Pakistan’s polio campaign.
The decadeslong battle to eradicate polio around the world is one of the most ambitious and expensive public-health campaigns in history. The mass-vaccination drive and its progress toward arresting a malady that has disabled or killed millions of people point to the success possible in the efforts to inoculate people around the world against Covid-19.