Huh, we still have polio?
That’s the first problem with the polio story.
This is often the public reaction whenever there are news stories about the long-running — and, lately, increasingly frustrating — effort to rid the world of this crippling disease. As recently as 1988, polio afflicted nearly half a million kids worldwide every year and killed maybe 5-10 percent of them.
The second problem with the polio story could be what I will call, by inventing a new German word, Glitz-Schadenfreude — the enjoyment of witnessing a rich or famous person getting taken down a notch.
Bill Gates, as we have been reminded over and over the past week, has made polio eradication one of his causes célèbres (sorry, switching to French). It’s a natural psychological tendency — this Glitz-Schadenfreude — for some of us to enjoy seeing Gates defend himself against those who would criticize his judgment on this, if not his role as humanitarian-in-chief.
Polio is today down to maybe a few thousand cases in a handful of mostly poor countries, thanks to a global vaccination campaign and in some cases improved sanitation.
The polio virus could (and does, on occasion) come back with a vengeance. We don’t worry about it here in the U.S. because we’re a wealthy country.