Polio is a highly infectious virus that cripples those children it does not kill. In 2002, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared it had contained polio to three countries and was close to eradicating it. An unprecedented, sustained and multibillion-dollar global effort had confined the virus to Nigeria, Pakistan and India, and WHO was closing in on victory.
Religious zealotry, misinformation and vaccine distrust coerced villagers in the Muslim north of Nigeria into refusing polio vaccinations and led to the re-emergence of polio just a few years after it had nearly joined smallpox on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s list of eradicated diseases. Over the next four years, more than 3,000 children were infected with polio, and by 2006, WHO reported more than 20 countries were reinfected with the Nigeria strain of the virus.