Fight against polio paralyzed

Polio could become a threat again if immediate action isn’t taken to eradicate the disease.

In the United States, advancements in health care facilitated the elimination of former scourges such as polio, cholera and typhoid. This success has not been mirrored around the world, and now a global campaign to eradicate polio is stalled. India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are the only four nations remaining where polio is endemic, and a failure to eliminate this disease could prove disastrous.

A worldwide initiative to eradicate polio began in 1988. At that time, 350,000 cases of polio were reported annually. Thanks to a tireless international effort, there were fewer than 2000 cases in 2005. This fell short of the eradication goal but was truly a success in many regards. Originally, 125 nations were afflicted and only four continue to harbor the disease.

Due to inconsistent vaccinations in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria, the disease is resurging. India only recorded 66 cases of polio in 2005. Since then, 283 cases have been documented. In a conference last week, a panel of health experts announced that these failures could lead to 250,000 annual cases if eradication is not reached in the near future.

This should be a frightening number for people all around the world. As cases have increased in the four countries, the disease has spread elsewhere. Last year the disease spread to 20 nations.

It is crucial for the world to rally to this cause and eliminate polio once and for all. Besides the obvious health impacts, the cost of vaccination is taxing for many nations. India alone would stand to save $1.5 billion if eradication was successful.

Currently, the World Health Organization says that they require $440 million to finance their eradication efforts through 2008. The United States should join forces with other nations to ensure that this funding is met and exceeded if necessary. We have the technology to erase polio forever, but action must be taken before this becomes a full-blown epidemic once again.