Politics and Polio
North and South America were declared polio-free in 1994. In 2002, it was Europe’s turn.
Monday, Reuters Alertnet reported: “Eighteen cases of the polio virus have been confirmed in Yemen, marking the first known outbreak of the disease in six years.”
Tuesday, Alertnet and the New York Times reported on an 18-month-old infant in Indonesia who has contracted polio, ”the first case in the country in a decade”. “Several other cases of paralysis in the same village in the province of West Java are under investigation.”
With Wednesday came numerous reports about multiple cases in Indonesia.
In Qatar, the Gulf Times reports that children under five flying in from countries where polio is active are being administered oral polio vaccine (OPV) at the airport, “irrespective of their previous immunization status…India and Nigeria are two of the nations where large-scale outbreaks of polio have not been stopped. The other countries include Pakistan, Afghanistan, Niger and Egypt.”
Polio continues its march out of Nigeria where political will overcame technology and snatched defeat in the eradication of the virus from the jaws of victory.
In late December, the UN reported that “officials held an emergency meeting in Khartoum to discuss to how to contain a polio epidemic in Sudan, where reports of 79 new cases have led to fears that the sometimes fatal disease could soon spread to other countries in the region…Sudan had been polio-free for several years but the disease has spread across at least 10 nations in Africa this year after vaccinations in some states of northern Nigeria were suspended in mid-2003 amid concerns from local religious leaders about the safety of the oral vaccine.”
In February, reports surfaced of cases in Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia. AJC / NYT February 11 / SMH Australia Feb 14
From the April 9, 2005 Houston Chronicle: “Amid the 11-month vaccine boycott, the Nigerian-rooted virus spread to neighbor countries including Benin, Chad and Cameroon. It also was exported farther afield, to Botswana, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Togo and even Saudi Arabia.”
While the persistent rumors that led to the Nigerian vaccine boycott of a link between polio vaccine and AIDS might be rational, the boycott itself was an irrational response that has had dire and costly consequences. Re-containment will require resources that could better be invested in, say, controlling malaria. It is an example showing why technology is not a ‘stand alone’ answer to problems. Where technical solutions require compliance, they also require trust and a shared vision of self-interest – or the jackboot.
How long will it be before the virus shows up in South America?
There is some good news. From Reuters April 19 05: The rate of new polio infections in Nigeria more than halved to 41 cases between February and April from 86 in the same 2004.