Despite the fact that, thanks to Drs. Salk, Sabin, and the World Health Organization, polio's nearly gone, I tend to read news items having to do with polio and efforts to stop it. Now, when I was very young, because I wore ungainly leg braces designed to remedy my (even now) rather hop-a-long gait, a result of having been born with Achilles tendons of fairly variable lengths (and my natural sense of physical balance being that of a fine drunk), it was initially supposed by my earliest friends that I had had polio. It made for more medical conversation than my earliest friends likely wanted to hear (and more than I'd ever wanted to rehearse over and again) when a new kid would ask me of a schoolyard recess when did I "get over" polio. Yet, however repetitively annoying, it was not, in 1956, the absurd question it would be today on playgrounds everywhere save for those in three nations -- Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria.
The World Health Organization has had remarkable success in its effort to eradicate polio. Yet in Muslim communities in these three nations, the WHO has met with considerable resistance, some of it lethal and some of it having to with more than superstition or even a general aversion to the West. Last December, reports Donald G. McNeil, Jr. in Saturday's New York Times, nine female polio workers were murdered in Pakistan. And while Near East and Central Asian Muslim aversion to vaccination pre-dates the past decade -- rumors have persisted there, for example, that vaccination is a CIA design to spread AIDS and/or to make Muslim women infertile -- the CIA's actual work in the run-up to killing Osama bin Laden is, for the Taliban and many other Muslims, dispositive. Mr. McNeil, Jr. reports that in "its efforts to track [OBL], the CIA paid a Pakistani doctor to seek entry to [the compound] on the pretext of vaccinating the children -- presumably to get DNA samples as evidence that [we had] the right family."
Unsurprising, then, that polio workers haven't been greeted warmly in those communities for whom Osama bin Laden was a hero, now a martyr. Until December, though, polio workers were not known to be targets. However, just last week killers shot at least nine polio workers at two clinics in northern Nigeria. Most of the dead were women, shot in the back of the head. The militant Muslim militia, Boko Haram, is suspected in the incident.
While I hope not to read of more such murders, I'm betting I will, leaving not the West, not reactionary elements of Islam, but polio, triumphant and rejoicing.