Donald Henderson

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Critics and fans spar on Bill Gates’ anti-polio push | 

UNICEF

Child receives polio vaccine

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.

Gates Foundation

Polio cases worldwide

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.

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