Thursday, April 23, 2009

Polio Eradication Effort Facing Reversal in Central Africa

Like smallpox in the past, polio is a vaccine-preventable disease facing a decades-long global eradication effort, much of which is detailed on the website of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative: http://www.polioeradication.org/. But according to an April 20, 2009 article in the New York Times, 15 countries in Africa previously polio-free have found the disease within their borders since January 2008. Some of these countries, like Uganda, had been free of the disease for over a decade. While Nigeria, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan are the only four countries in which polio has never been eradicated, the new cases found in central to southern Africa have prompted fears of a greater outbreak, especially since the disease has reached Port Sudan again, a stop on the way to Mecca, the Muslim pilgrimage site believed to have helped the disease spread quickly to Yemen, Somalia, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia between 2004 and 2006.

Something I found particularly interesting about this report was that many newly reinfected areas are those with high concentration of Muslims, many of whom have resisted vaccination "because of rumors that vaccine efforts are a Western plot to sterilize them," according to the NYTimes article. While (hopefully) untrue here, the virility of this rumor underscores both the politics, perceived or real, of such an eradication effort on a global scale.

Click for NYTimes article.
Link to original WHO article: http://www.who.int/wer/2009/wer8416/en/index.html

-Molly

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