Polio Danger Again

Child with Smallpox Bangladesh 1973
Child with Smallpox Bangladesh 1973

“The disease (smallpox) killed an estimated 400,000 Europeans annually during the closing years of the 18th century (including five reigning monarchs), and was responsible for a third of all blindness. Of all those infected, 20–60%—and over 80% of infected children—died from the disease. Smallpox was responsible for an estimated 300–500 million deaths during the 20th century. As recently as 1967, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 15 million people contracted the disease and that two million died in that year.” (Wikipedia)

It was a wonderful thing when the WHO wiped out smallpox in 1979. Now it’s on the verge of wiping out two more horrible human diseases, polio and guinea worm, which causes a crippling and painful infestation in many tropical countries. But WHO needs our cooperation. Diseases don’t become extinct without a lot of work from a lot of people, and a lot of immunizations.

Iron lung with polio patient
Iron lung with polio patient

Polio has been extinct in the United States since 1979. Since then, WHO, in cooperation with many thousands of volunteers, wiped it out in most of the rest of the world. Only corrupt dictators and politicians in less than half-a-dozen backward nations have prevented the completion of these programs.

As of 2013, polio was endemic only in Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, although it continues to spread to other nearby countries. For example, despite eradication in China in 2001, an outbreak was confirmed there in September 2011 involving a strain from neighboring Pakistan.

iron lung ward
Iron lung ward filled with polio patients, Rancho Los Amigos Hospital, California (1953)

But vaccination rates have  dropped in the United States and other industrialized countries in recent years, prompting concerns of reemergence. Now polio is spreading again because so many people refuse to vaccinate their children.

On May 5, the WHO declared polio a global emergency. At least 10 countries are reporting polio cases this year, with potential for spread to others via international travel.

We do NOT want polio back in our country. Or anywhere else, either.

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