A year has passed with no new cases for the first time in Pakistan's history after the last infection of the wild poliovirus was recorded on January 27 last year.

Security forces often accompany health workers since overall militant attacks surged by 56 percent last year.
Security forces often accompany health workers since overall militant attacks surged by 56 percent last year. (AFP)

One years has passed since Pakistan last recorded an infection of the wild poliovirus, in a major milestone for the country’s anti-polio drive.

To formally eradicate the disease, a nation must be polio-free for three consecutive years, but even 12 months is a long time in a country where vaccination teams are in the crosshairs of a simmering uprising.

Since the Taliban takeover of neighbouring Afghanistan, the Pakistan version of the movement has become emboldened and its fighters frequently target polio teams.

"Life or death is in God's hands," health worker Sidra Hussain said this week, amid a patchwork of high-walled compounds in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

"We have to come," she said defiantly. "We can't just turn back because it's difficult."

Hussain, along with her partner, goes door-to-door on the outskirts of Mardan city, dripping doses of rose-coloured medicine into infants' mouths as part of the country’s drive to eradicate the virus.

READ MORE: Pakistan is on the verge of polio eradication

Security threat

Nigeria officially eradicated wild polio in 2020, leaving Pakistan and Afghanistan as the only countries where the disease, which causes crippling paralysis, is still endemic.

Spread through faeces and saliva, the virus has historically thrived in the blurred borderlands between the South Asian nations, where state infrastructure is weak and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have carved out a home.

Last year overall militant attacks by the group surged by 56 percent according to the Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies, reversing a six-year downward trend.

Pakistan's newspapers regularly include stories of police slain as they guard polio teams. Just this week a constable was gunned down in Kohat, 80 kilometres (50 miles) southwest of Mardan.

Pakistani media has reported as many as 70 polio workers killed in militant attacks since 2012, mostly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Still, a TTP spokesman said it "never attacked any polio workers", and that security forces were their target.

"They will be targeted wherever they perform their duties," he said.

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Source: AFP