by Paul Kiser
Is the fight against polio too narrow? A Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article by Robert A. Guth suggests that Bill Gates, a recent champion of eradicating polio, and other major players in the polio fight are reconsidering the focus on eradicating one disease in favor of a broader based approach.
Since the 1980’s Rotarians have been closely involved in the attempt to eradicate polio with the belief that it would be accomplished by the year 2000. But that didn’t happen despite major efforts of Rotary International, the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, and our own Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
By the year 2000 the new cases of polio were down to less than a 1000, and the hope was that a strong second effort would eliminate polio. For the last ten years millions of dollars have been raised to accomplish the goal and in the past few years the Bill Gates Foundation has joined the effort. Despite all the dedicated effort we are no closer to eradication than we were in 2000, in fact, we may be farther behind.
However, there is ample evidence that the money and effort spent over the last ten years have not been in vain. When efforts have been halted due to political and/or religious issues the number of new cases skyrockets, and not just in the local region. It is no exaggeration to say that a polio outbreak in the United States is only 14 hours away. So are we locked in a never-ending battle with polio?
That is part of the reason the major players in the fight against polio are considering a different strategy. Polio is able to keep a foothold in the world, in part, because of larger health issues in many countries. A lack of clean water, proper treatment of human waste, poor health care, and other diseases that weaken human resistance, all create an environment where polio can thrive. If we can improve the health standards in rest of the world we can not only make progress against eradicating polio, but also deal a blow to a wide range of diseases that have plagued those who are least able to fight back.
According to the WSJ article, next month the nations of the WHO will be asked to vote on a revised strategy. The battle against polio will be remain at the center of the strategy, but additional efforts to improve health in affected regions will be part of the effort. The hope is to choke off the conditions that allow polio to breed.
It will be a big challenge as the polio fight is currently $1.2 billion short in meeting the budget for the next three years; however, the risk of not taking action could be much more expensive for all of us.
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