End Polio Now

15 08 2011

What do Donald Sutherland, Joni Mitchell, Robert McNamara, and Arthur C. Clarke have in common?

Polio. They all survived polio.

This disease, which may be thousands of years old, was clinically described in the 18th century as a “debility of the lower extremities.” Later, in the U.S., it was labeled infantile paralysis.

Fast-forward a couple of centuries to the 1950s, when Dr. Jonas Salk developed the first polio vaccine and right on his heels was Dr. Albert Sabin, with another vaccine that became widely used. Cases of polio plummeted in most countries, but each year there were still hundreds of thousands of kids infected.

Fresh from the success of smallpox eradication, an opportunity to do the same to polio was envisioned and energies were renewed in 1988, when the World Health Assembly launched the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

Twenty years later, the World Health Organization reports on the success of the Initiative:

“Polio cases have decreased by over 99% since 1988, from an estimated 350,000 cases in more than 125 endemic countries then, to 1604 reported cases in 2009 . . .”

That’s pretty good. But, polio keeps flaring up. Areas and countries that were once polio-free have seen the virus imported by those not protected through vaccination. In 2009-2010, 23 countries saw such activity. Seems we’re moving in the wrong direction.

Dr. Bruce Aylward explains how we’ll stop polio—for good.

We’re on a fine edge. Tilt one way and we eradicate polio from the world. Tilt the other, and we’ll never see the end of it.

Help spread the word. Blog about it. Tweet about it. Every kid deserves to grow up free of this disease.

By Trish Parnell