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Religion and Polio in Pakistan: Finding the Cure

Author: Kathryn Salucka
July 18, 2012
World Policy Journal


This originally appeared as a blog post on the World Policy Blog, the online counterpart to the World Policy Journal.

Around 350,000 children will be denied polio vaccines in this week's immunization campaign in Pakistan. A World Health Organization doctor was nearly killed on the 17th of July in the city of Karachi while participating in the polio eradication campaign. In the North Waziristan region, over 160,000 children were denied polio vaccinations last month. In the war against polio, Pakistan is coming up short. Its most recent remedy? Recruiting a new figurehead in its campaign against polio: national cricket star Shahid Afridi. This announcement is likely in response to last month's decrees from multiple Taliban commanders throughout Pakistan banning polio vaccinations in retaliation for the continued U.S. drone strikes in the country. These decrees directly resulted in children not receiving polio vaccines. Furthermore, the Taliban has declared polio vaccinations "un-Islamic," an argument no cricket super-star can counter.

Instead of looking to the sports hall of fame for the key to winning the war on polio, Pakistan should look to the House of Saud. The Pakistani government should adopt the Saudi policy response to infectious disease threats, and directly enlist their religious leadership to make a lasting stand against polio. Serving as a bulwark for much of the Islamic world, Saudi Arabia provides the religious legitimacy—and technical expertise—Pakistan is lacking in the fight against polio.

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