Cape Elizabeth Town Manager Mike McGovern learned this week that military escorts are helping health workers fight polio in Pakistan.

McGovern met Tuesday with the acting president of Pakistan to discuss Rotary International’s efforts to vaccinate children in that country.

McGovern was in Pakistan because he travels widely as chairman of the club’s International PolioPlus Committee and its End Polio Now campaign. Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only countries that have never eliminated transmission of the crippling disease, which is incurable but completely preventable through vaccination.

Acting President Raza Rabbani told McGovern’s delegation that military operations to protect polio health workers have helped to diminish the disease in the semi-autonomous Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan, according to DAWN, a Pakistani news agency.

“It is heartening to learn of the successes achieved in (the tribal areas) in controlling polio virus, which shows that the tide can be stemmed with perseverance and commitment,” Rabbani said in a story published Wednesday. “The total number of polio cases has reduced substantively in Pakistan due to the efforts of the government, and the country is likely to succeed in eradicating this menace very soon.”

Poliomyelitis is a highly infectious disease that attacks the nervous system and can cause paralysis and sometimes death in a matter of hours. The United States has been polio-free for more than three decades because of effective vaccines, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Pakistan, many health workers have been killed while distributing polio vaccine drops because Islamic militants claim they are U.S. spies and part of a Western plot to sterilize children, according to news reports. Since the Pakistani government began providing military escorts for vaccination efforts, seven police officers were killed in April while guarding polio health workers in Karachi.

Despite these losses, Rabbani said the military operation has helped to extend the outreach of polio health workers, allowing an additional 600,000 children to receive the polio vaccine in the tribal areas, the Daily Times of Pakistan reported.

As a result, the number of polio cases has dropped drastically, with only 12 cases registered in the current year compared with 54 in 2015 and 306 in 2014, according to government data reported by DAWN.

“Pakistan is beholden to Rotary for massive resource mobilization for polio eradication,” Rabbani said in the Daily Times, adding that he looked forward to greater collaboration with the Rotary to end polio.

Rabbani, who is chairman of Pakistan’s Senate, is acting president while President Mamnoon Hussain is in Saudi Arabia on a pilgrimage to Mecca.

While meeting Tuesday with Rabbani, McGovern discussed Rotary’s various programs in Pakistan, including efforts to increase literacy and provide clean water.

Since 1979, Rotarians have spent $1.7 billion – $110 million this year alone – to eradicate polio worldwide, which includes providing the vaccine and the equipment to help dispense it, such as coolers and refrigerators. McGovern’s role as global chairman of the campaign is to see the results of that investment first-hand and ensure the accountability of sponsored programs.

“It is wonderful to see the progress in Pakistan in eradicating polio,” McGovern said Thursday in an email.

During a tour of polio vaccination centers, his delegation drove through Abbottabad, the city where Osama bin Laden lived and died. McGovern also met the president of the Rotary Club of Abbottabad.

“It has been an interesting week in Pakistan,” he said. “I am looking forward to returning home Friday.”

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: KelleyBouchard