Robin must have a fertile mind, she keeps bringing up subjects that I’ve already made notes that I want to do a post on. Last week I made a note that I wanted to do a post on Polio eradication.
When I was a school kid, polio was the dreaded disease. We couldn’t go swimming in the summer because the “old wives” decided that Polio came from the water. We had an outbreak of Polio in Laytonville, and several kids disappeared from school. One came back wearing braces for life! That brings polio home, even for a kid.
The March Of Dimes was instituted to develop a vaccine against polio. Every store that a person went into had a card on the counter with dime slots in it, and if you got any dimes in your change you were expected to place them in the dime slots to fund polio research. Some people asked for dimes to place in the cards. I can still see the card in my mind. On the top of the card was a photo of a little kid in an “Iron Lung” that was used to help victims of paralysis breathe. I remember wondering if that was where my friends from school went. It didn’t look like that much fun to me. I remember that sometimes my Mom or Dad would give me a dime to put in one of the slots.
Many may know, but some don’t, that Rotary International has taken on the job of eradicating Polio throughout the whole world. Rotary was asked to accept the job of eradicating polio by the World Health Organization. In 1979 Rotary accepted that task, and the goal was to eradicate Polio by 1984.
The Rotary Club was asked to front the effort to eradicate polio because they take no position on religion or politics. Their stance of neutrality and impartiality made them the ideal vehicle for getting rid of the dreaded disease because they are welcome in most countries of the world. It seemed like it would be easy. Because Rotarians are in all most businesses, and have members all over the world, the vaccine can be moved cost free anywhere in the world, and can be delivered to a child’s tongue for under two dollars a dose. The only cost is the drug itself. Once polio is wiped out, it could be gone forever, like Smallpox.
What the Rotarians did not anticipate, and they should have, is the colossal stupidity of the human condition, and the struggle continues today. They gain a little and lose a little, and children in some countries are still getting polio.
From Time Magazine:
“In the summer of 2003, leaders of the region [Nigeria] stopped polio inoculations after rumors spread that the vaccine could transmit AIDS and render girls infertile. It was a bad time--and a very bad place--to halt vaccines. There are now 35 million Nigerian kids under age 5, and 20% have no polio vaccinations. Says Oliver Rosenbauer, spokesman for WHO's Global Polio Eradication Initiative: "That's a lot of breathing space for the poliovirus to survive."
Dr. Hamid Jafari:
"in certain places, fatwas have been issued against the vaccine." In those places, Muslims have stopped state health workers from entering their houses and administering the polio vaccine, which is administered orally, to their children.
Dr. Jafari adds that paranoia is not the only reason for the hostility to the polio drops. Uttar Pradesh is notorious for being one of the worst-administered regions of India, and most of the state has appallingly bad hospitals and health services. Muslims, who are among the poorest of Indians, bear the brunt of this collapse in the state's health infrastructure. Dr Jafari says: "There's a sense of frustration among many Muslims: they tell the health workers, we've never seen anyone coming to take care of us, why are you coming just to give us polio drops?"
Amid the heartache and frustration of eliminating Polio, there are good stories of epic proportions, wars have stopped the safe delivery of the vaccine in many countries, but there are exceptions:
From The World health Organization:
“Over 75,000 volunteer vaccinators delivered poliovaccine to children over a three-day period (13 - 15 August) in the first of three rounds of National Immunization Days in Democratic Republic of Congo. Fighting stopped in nine-tenths of the country to allow the campaign to go ahead, following the intervention of the UN Secretary-General Mr Kofi Annan, urging all sides to comply with truces for polio immunization.
In Kisangani, 70 percent of children were vaccinated despite the outbreak of fighting on the third day. A ceasefire was agreed by the Presidents of Uganda and Rwanda, following a request by Mr Annan. An extra "catch-up" campaign to vaccinate unreached children in that area is scheduled.
"This is a significant step that brings us closer to a polio-free world," said Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of WHO. "War is one of the greatest hurdles that we now face in our effort to eradicate this disease. Through the joint efforts of the UN agencies, the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rotary International and local authorities, we overcame this in the interests of the world's children."
The Presidents of Uganda and Rwanda agreed that their war was not against their children, and they declared a cease-fire for the vaccinations to take place.
And of course, as time goes on, more children are born that are not immune, and the Rotarians start over, two steps forward and one step back. It looked like the goal would finally be reached in 2005, but the recent conflicts around the world have built new walls of danger and mistrust.
I am not against any Religion, but I have seen the suffering of too many children to accept a closed mind. Some feel the fight against the disease will be won, it is only a matter of time and opportunity. On the other hand, there is some indication, even here in the United States, of reluctance to have children vacinated for any of a variety of diseases. So, who really has the right to decide.
Polio may be with us a long time.
More on Polio