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How Does The Polio Vaccine Reach A Remote Corner Of The World?

Health workers transport the polio vaccine by donkey in southeastern Pakistan.
Asad Zaidi
/
Courtesy of UNICEF Pakistan.
Health workers transport the polio vaccine by donkey in southeastern Pakistan.

In the past week, we've had a lot to say about polio — from its history in the U.S. to vaccination efforts in Nigeria and Pakistan.

Why do we care so much about disease that has essentially disappeared from most of the world? Because we seem to be right on the verge of wiping out polio globally, making it just the second disease to be completely eliminated from the world.

Polio cases have plummeted in the past 25 years, from an estimated 350,000 in 1988 to only 171 cases so far in 2012. But as NPR's Jackie Northam tweeted last week: For polio " 'this close' is akin to being 'kinda pregnant'. You need to eradicate polio, full stop."

To do that, kids in the most rural corners of Pakistan and Afghanistan must be inoculated, not once, but multiple times.

So how does a heat-sensitive vaccine reach mountainous villages disconnected from roads and rivers? A few months ago, UNICEF Pakistan gave us an idea of the vaccine's remarkable journey. Here's how it works.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Michaeleen Doucleff, PhD, is a correspondent for NPR's Science Desk. For nearly a decade, she has been reporting for the radio and the web for NPR's global health outlet, Goats and Soda. Doucleff focuses on disease outbreaks, cross-cultural parenting, and women and children's health.
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