Polio — that frustrating bright light at the end of the tunnel.

Child receives polio vaccine

The global campaign to eradicate polio appears unlikely to achieve its goal of wiping this deadly and disabling disease off the face of the planet by the end of 2012 — but it is tantalizingly, frustratingly close.

Today is World Polio Day and there is much to celebrate, such as the fact that much of the world has rid itself of this infectious disease that as recently as 1988 killed or maimed 350,000 people every year in some 125 countries. According to the World Health Organization, polio is now endemic to only four countries  — India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan — and in 2010 the reported total cases were 1,349.

India is on track to get off that notorious list. This country, which not too long ago had a massive problem with polio, has only seen one case this year and appears to be on the verge of finally eliminating the disease.

But there are other troubling signs of losing ground, such as the recent spread of polio from Pakistan to China and and outbreak of polio in Madagascar, which had eliminated the disease. Resurgence of polio cases in other poor countries such as DR Congo and Chad have caused those pushing for global eradication to acknowledge the 2012 target is likely infeasible.

Wired magazine characterized this as a “scathing report,” which seemed a bit over top and made it sound like the problem here was malfeasance:

The problem is more complicated than that, beginning with the fact that this is a disease of poverty (and dirty water) — and it’s a very sneaky virus.

We’re 99 percent of the way there but, in reality, probably not as close to eradicating polio as these numbers may suggest. It’s the last few cases in remote communities that are always the hardest. But is there really much logic in giving up this battle, however frustrating and however many deadlines are missed?

Without the efforts of Rotary International and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, not to mention UNICEF and WHO, we would all be much more familiar with the crippling signs of the failure to beat a preventable disease.

Here’s a bit of video advocacy from the Gates Foundation:


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.

  • Philippeboucher2

    My comment is not about polio but on 2 topics I just noticed when visiting the Gates Foundation site. One is aboput an OpEd by Bill and Melinda about Grading the teachers and the other one is about combatting homelessness. I’d be curious to have your opinion. Mine is BMGF lives on another planet: they seem to have no clue about the dramatic economic situation in the US, for teachers or for homeless people. They seem to think it’s all a question of better management? I guess the only way to teach them less arrogance and face the reality would be to have a occupy the foundation project… maybe that would force them to see the reality they so arrogantly ignore. Of course, in consideration to the huge $ power of the GMGF nobody (at least in the mainstream media) seems willing to call them what they are: arrogant …

  • Philippeboucher2

    Now a comment about the video from the Gates Foundation about polio. The only thing that people are going -now- to remember is the 99% figure but of course the 99% can only refer now to the 99% versus 1% and the occupy wall street movement. In that context, the Gates Foundation’s message is completely out of sync. There is also nothing comparable with going to the moon, the fall of the Berlin wall or Nelson Mandela. This is a pathetic communication mixture concocted by very dumb admen. I guess they should go and ask the occupy wall street people how to communicate about polio. I really don’t think this is the right strategy. But that’s not the first time that BGMF communication is out of sync. Too bad.