Friday, May 13, 2011
End Polio Now
Yeah, it's a freakish picture and the program couldn't fit my whole name at the bottom, but I'm trying to make a statement. Rotary International recently launched its latest public relations campaign to bring attention to its 26-year fight against polio, a disease without a cure that can cause paralysis and death.
Yes, polio still exists, even though we have a vaccine that prevents it. The last endemic case in the U.S. was in 1979, but polio still rages on in parts of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria and India. Well, not so much India. They've actually only had one case of polio in 2011 and are on track to wipe it out soon.
But it's still a serious problem since these remaining polio-endemic countries export the virus to other countries that were previously polio-free (endemic means that the virus transmission has never been interrupted). Because of such exportations, there are currently also polio cases in countries such as Angola, Chad, Sudan and the Democratic of Congo. You might also have heard about the polio outbreak in Tajikistan last year, which is just north of Afghanistan.
And if polio can cross borders just as easily as people do, that means it can go anywhere. If polio immunizations aren't maintained at very high levels throughout a population, one case can turn into hundreds or more.
Have you heard about American parents who are increasingly turning down vaccinations for their children? That's how it starts. If enough Americans (or any group) stops immunizing against a disease, then an outbreak of that disease is only one plane ride away.
Rotary International and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) have wiped out polio in 99% of the world since 1985. The remaining 1% - contained areas of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria and India - are proving to be quite the b&%*@ to immunize fully. But it has to be done. If we stop advancing on the polio virus, we'll go back to hundreds of thousands of children suffering from it a year. That includes paralysis and death.
I like to say that you can't cure families, you can only prevent them. The same is true for polio. Once you have it, any damage it does is permanent. We have to finish the job of eradicating it.
Right now the two biggest challenges to polio eradication are government commitment and money. We need the governments of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria and India to step up and prioritize their polio immunization goals. For most of us in the rest of the world, there isn't a whole lot we can do about that, but we can help with the second problem.
Currently the GPEI is millions of dollars short of meeting its budget for 2012. If you're so inclined, you can give them some money. If not, you can help spread the word with your own This Close ad (which will be less creepy than mine, I hope). And if neither of those appeal to you, just remember that vaccinating your child against a disease is really not optional as long as the disease exists anywhere on the planet.