Polio cases on the rise in Afghanistan, Pakistan

A recent study suggests that the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan and problems with vaccination programs in Pakistan has lead to a rise in cases of the crippling childhood disease polio.

The paper, published in the British medical journal The Lancet, says newly introduced vaccines could have potentially eliminated polio in the two countries if a significant number of children were inoculated, according to

"The eradication of poliomyelitis in parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan has been complicated by armed conflict, security concerns, cultural barriers and natural disasters that have limited accessibility," The Lancet study reports.

In 2011, Pakistan reported having the highest number of polio cases on record in a decade - 198 in total, compared to 144 in 2010. Afghanistan saw its number of cases rise from 51 to 81 last year.

Philip Minor of the British National Institute of Biological Standards and Control warned that the virus had the potential to spread into areas that are considered polio-free.

"Clearly, if one country has poliomyelitis the whole world is at risk," Minor said, reports.

Currently, polio only remains endemic in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. A massive vaccination campaign in India allowed that country to be removed from the list in February. In 1988, polio was considered endemic in more than 125 countries, according to the World Health Organization.