A Pakistani health worker administers polio vaccine drops to school children during a polio campaign. Photo: ARIF ALI / AFP / Getty Images

In recent years, polio cases were 73% more common in areas of Pakistan experiencing insecurity from conflict, and vaccination rates were about 5% lower during those periods, according to a new study.

Why it matters: Pakistan is one of only three countries that hasn't eradicated the virus, and insecurity is often cited as a reason.

"[B]ut the science to support this claim was surprisingly weak," study author Amol Verma from the University of Toronto tells Axios. "Our study provides strong scientific evidence that insecurity is an important obstacle to polio eradication in Pakistan, which is one of the last reservoirs of polio in the world."

What's happening: The poliovirus was deemed a "public health emergency of international concern" by the World Health Organization. There were just 8 reported cases in Pakistan last year but the virus is still being detected in the environment.

The study: Researchers examined monthly data on the incidence of polio in 32 districts in northwest Pakistan from 2007 to 2014 — and the rate of vaccination from 2007 to 2009 — and compared it to terrorist attacks and other conflict-related event statistics. Their findings:

1. One of the primary factors linking reduced vaccination rates and insecurity is restricted access for health workers administering vaccinations.

2. Districts are not "uniformly secure or insecure," they write; the high and low insecurity that vaccination campaigns encounter can fluctuate. But per the study, campaigns in the midst of high insecurity have 5.3% lower vaccination rates than those during what were considered secure periods.

“Even though it’s only a 5 percent reduction in vaccination rates, that is enough to allow the virus to continue to be circulated and transmitted.”
— Verma told Voice of America

3. Insecurity can have lasting effects. The researchers note that "vaccination rates were reduced in campaigns up to 12 [months] after security incidents."

The limitations: The researchers studied incidents by district, and the last census of the area was taken in 1998. A supplementary analysis was done using the government's 2013 population projection and the researchers report the "main findings were unchanged."

  • Additionally, the study didn't look at targeted attacks on public health workers trying to vaccinate children. The researchers wrote that while reports including this data exist, they're so far unreliable.

Go deeper

Competitors ready to pounce on TikTok bans

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Growing security and privacy concerns over Chinese-owned short-video app TikTok have given a lift to alternatives like Byte and Dubsmash, which have seen spikes in downloads from smartphone users recently, according to data from SensorTower.

Why it matters: If TikTok's meteoric rise in popularity among U.S. youth gets slowed by rising tensions with China, or ended by a threatened ban by the Trump administration, American teens will still have to get their hits of meme-laden video somewhere.

39 mins ago - Technology

U.S. pushes homegrown drone industry amid China battle

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Alarmed at the prospect of relying on Chinese-made drones for public safety and monitoring critical industries, U.S. investors and the federal government are newly backing a domestic drone industry of hardware and software companies.

The big picture: The moves come as the industry continues to be led by DJI, a Chinese hardware maker — and as concerns grow both in China and the U.S. about reliance on the other country's technology.

Exclusive: The N.Y. Times doubles down on TV and film ambitions

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

One of the country's oldest and most established media companies is starting to look more like a Hollywood studio than a traditional newspaper.

Driving the news: The New York Times has 10 scripted TV show projects in development, as well as 3 feature documentaries coming out this year and several other documentary projects in development and production, executives tell Axios.