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: