ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — In a surprising turnaround, Pakistan appears to be finally getting a handle on its polio epidemic, thanks to unorthodox tactics such as tracking residents’ cellphones.
The 85 percent decline in new cases this year is boosting confidence that Pakistani officials are on pace to stop the spread of the virus here, perhaps as early as next year. If Pakistan can achieve that goal, the world will take a major step toward becoming polio-free.
In late September, the World Health Organization declared that polio was no longer “endemic” in Nigeria, leaving only Pakistan and Afghanistan on the list of countries where the crippling virus continues to spread.
The revelation that the CIA had used a fake polio vaccination campaign to gain intelligence on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden in 2011 had been a huge blow to Pakistan’s efforts against the disease, especially in areas where Islamist militant groups were strong.
But as the militants have loosened their grip on Pakistan’s northwestern tribal belt, health officials are now vaccinating hundreds of thousands of children for the first time.
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