Saturday, February 12, 2011

Polio: Who Knew Eradication was Controversial?

The New York Times recently published an interesting article about the Gate´s Foundation´s efforts to eradicate polio. It interested me because polio is one of the projects we are working on at my new job. Though very far down the chain of donors, the project is related to this global eradication effort.

Polio has been eradicated from the United States for so long that older Americans remember polio as something they worried about when they were children in the 1950´s and 60´s but probably did not have to worry about for their own children. The polio vaccine has been part of routine childhood vaccinations for sometime, though it has long since ceased to be an issue for American children. But this is not the case in the developing world. India, Pakistan and now central African countries like the DRC and Angola, which had previously been thought to be polio free as still struggling to make the virus history.

The world is close to eradication, but as the article describes it, getting rid of the last of the virus is like squeezing jell-o. As eradication is acheived in one country, it reappears somewhere else.

And here is the controversy: as eradication has proved so difficult, is it right to keep spending money on this one disease, when there are other diseases, like malaria, that affect more people and cause more deaths? There are some public health officials who are not supportive of aggresive polio campaigns for just this reason. They say it is not a feasible goal and that there are other, more pressing health concerns to deal with.

It is my opinion that eradication is an important goal. It is not right to declare the fight over only now that the virus is no longer a concern in developed countries. The vaccination works, but the campaigns are needed to deliver the vaccine and education to the hardest to reach communities. And if the virus is not actually defeated, there will still be ongoing costs just to contain it. Now is the time for eradication. If we let go of the fight now, all the work done in the last decades could be reversed in just a few years.

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