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5 responses to “Disease eradication: polio and guinea worm”

  1. patrickg

    Anyone interested in this topic would be well served listening to the “Poliomyletis” lecture (no.24) by Frank Snowden from his great course <a href="http://oyc.yale.edu/history/epidemics-in-western-society-since-1600/content/downloads"Epidemics in western society since 1600 (best lecture series I’ve downloaded thus far, fascinating and well delivered).

    There are many public health experts who believe that polio eradication is impossible, and it was a naive mistake to ever treat the disease like smallpox. After listening to the pros and cons of the argument in the lecture, I’m inclined to agree, at least for the next 50 years.

  2. patrickg

    doh, broken hyperlink. I’m sure you can work it out.

  3. nand
  4. sg

    I think polio eradication is possible. The issue is conflict – the disease is only endemic in four countries, and three of those (Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan) are in a state of conflict.

    The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation are putting huge amounts of effort into this and a lot of work is being done. They have organized a loan from the Japanese government to Pakistan, for example, and will repay the whole loan (about 250 million dollars) on Pakistan’s behalf if they eradicate polio by 2015.

    The main problem is organizing vaccination in conflict zones, and apparently the Japanese government has had some success doing this in other countries and will be helping to do the same in Pakistan and Afghanistan this year.

    It will be a big achievement for the world when this is done, and another feather in the WHO’s cap. The big one, of course, is malaria, but at the moment the only realistic goals that can be set for it are a reduction in new cases.

  5. Michael Sheldrick

    I’m involved in coordinating Global Poverty Project’s The End of Polio campaign, which aims to build public support for the critical work of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

    It goes without saying that the significance of the progress seen in India – which has gone almost a year without a single case of polio being reported – should not be underestimated.

    India was once considered a ‘perfect storm’ when it came to the spread of polio: birth rates were high, populations were dense, and sanitation was terrible. These conditions were said to make it ripe for polio to spread. Indeed, in 2009, India had more cases of polio than any country in the world.

    But India changed the game in two short years, laying the groundwork to end polio and improve the health of its citizens – offering the very real possibility that India will be considered polio free within the next few years. Such a significant achievement demonstrates what is possible with the right level of political and financial support.

    True, as Sg points out, that conflict proves an obstacle to efforts in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan. Conflict can prevent vaccination teams from reaching every child and lead to a decrease in immunisation, providing the opportunity for polio to spread. Nonetheless, the existence of conflict doesn’t mean we can’t achieve eradication – it’s an issue the WHO has been managing since the eradication program started, and the program has succeeded in eradicating polio from Somalia, Southern Sudan and Cambodia during times of heavy conflict.

    Another obstacle is the fact that there are constraints in gaining political commitments within affected countries and maintaining engagement with leaders’ at all necessary levels. Yet, here too there is some cause for optimism, even in “problematic” Pakistan.

    At last year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Prime Minister Gilani pledged that his Government would utilise all possible resources regarding polio eradication. Since this announcement, Government officials who fail to meet performance targets in Pakistan’s eradication program have been threatened with tough action, and chief ministers and other local leaders have been urged to make polio eradication a priority. Such high level leadership is crucial to achieving eradication goals.

    In the end, despite the presence of significant obstacles still to overcome, we should not fail to recognise (and celebrate!) the progress that has been achieved. Indeed, globally the number of cases of polio in 2011 was considerably less than that reported in 2010.

    As for the notion that the complete eradication of polio is impossible, I would like to respond by simply quoting from a speech Simon McKeon (2011 Australian of the Year) delivered last year: “There was apparently an American World Health Organisation official who many years ago said that in the campaign to rid India of smallpox, he said something like ‘I’ll eat a tyre of a jeep when that happens’. Well, apparently he was sent a tyre. We don’t know whether he ate it.”