On the verge of eradication in Pakistan, polio made an alarming comeback. In 2011, a CIA ploy—using a vaccination campaign to track down Osama bin Laden's hideout—backfired and led to Islamic militants believing that all polio vaccination workers were American spies. These militants in the Pakistani borderlands with Afghanistan began killing dozens of vaccination workers, and the disease once again began to spread.
In 2012, Islamic fighters from the tribal area heeded a call for jihad in Syria. Less than a year later, the virus re-surfaced in eastern Syria in areas under rebel-control. Experts claim that the polio found in Syria was identical to the Pakistani strain.
In a multi-part investigation spanning the Taliban heartland to ISIS-controlled territory in Syria, Jason Motlagh and Tim McGirk explore both the conflict as a vector for polio across the region and the bold campaign to stop this crippling disease in its tracks.