On Tuesday, public health officials reported three new cases of polio in Afghanistan's Kandahar province — the first in nearly two years to be recorded in the province, which, like the rest of the country, had recently made strides in fighting the disease.
Afghanistan is one of three countries in the world where the incurable but preventable disease remains endemic, particularly within Kandahar. The others are Nigeria and neighboring Pakistan, where the spread of the disease has recently reached record numbers largely because of an anti-immunization campaign that has resulted in the killing of dozens of health workers since 2012.
Earlier this month, Pakistan counted its 200th new case of polio this year — its highest in more than 12 years. The country has long battled the spread of the disease, managing to reduce the number of new cases to 28 in 2005. But resistance coordinated by the Pakistani Taliban and other Islamist groups — as well as, critics say, inaction by the government — has caused a recent spike that threatens to only get worse. Pakistan today accounts for 80 percent of all polio cases worldwide.
Afghan officials believe that migrants fleeing Pakistan's northern Waziristan region, where the government is battling Islamic extremists, are bringing polio across the border into Afghanistan's Khost province. According to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, which monitors the disease worldwide, "North Waziristan is the district with the largest number of children being paralyzed by poliovirus in the world."
Before the latest cases in Kandahar, Afghanistan had registered seven new cases this year. Kandahar's public health department hasnoted that most children arriving from Waziristan haven't been vaccinated.