Friday, July 29, 2011

Eradicating polio

The Economist has an interesting article on the global campaign to eradicate polio. It notes that the World Health Organisation in 1988 set out to achieve a polio-free world by 2000. While the rate of polio infections today is one percent of that in 1988, the eradication has not been accomplished.
Today polio is endemic in only four countries: Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan. It has, however, re-emerged in several others. Each endemic country has its own particular problems. In Afghanistan the GPEI has failed to stop transmission in 13 war-ridden southern districts. Most of India is free of the disease, but the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar continue to struggle. In 2003 and 2004 Nigeria was gripped by rumours that polio vaccine would sterilise children and infect them with HIV. And although in Pakistan the incidence of polio dropped tenfold between 1995 and 2000, conflict, poor sanitation and a mobile population helped the number of cases jump by 62% last year.
International terrorism has been killing a few hundred people per year. Polio will return in full horror if the eradication fails; malaria did when the malaria eradication campaign failed. If polio does return, it will be far more damaging than international terrorism. The cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, supposedly fought to reduce the risk from international terrorism, cost some four trillion dollars. Lets not skimp on financing of the effort to eradicate polio. Indeed, I would suggest that countries that do not eradicate polio within their borders be seen as comparable to Afghanistan in its criminal support of Al Qaeda before 9/11! However, there poor countries and regions will need help and incentives to do their part.

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