The Power of Polio

Syria’s Polio Outbreak Is a Reminder of the Disease’s Power.

Polio has returned to Syria, which had been free of the potentially paralyzing and at times fatal disease since 1999. “There are ten cases confirmed right now in the Deir Al Zour province” in northeast Syria and 12 more suspected cases, says Oliver Rosenbauer, spokesman for the World Health Organization’s Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

The cases are mostly in young children, but the threat remains for anyone who is unvaccinated.  Because of the civil war, that could potentially be a lot of people.  Polio is endemic in only 3 countries – Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria, and the number of cases worldwide has dropped dramatically since 1988.

But all is not well, as

 this year’s spring outbreaks in previously polio-free Somalia and Kenya reminded us. In addition, the discovery of sewage samples containing poliovirus in Israel has led to a countrywide campaign to offer oral polio vaccines to children between the ages of four months and nine years, as a precaution.

With large numbers of refugees moving around the Middle East, the potential for problems is high.  How will vaccines be provided for all the people who need them?  Who will deliver the medicines?  In the 3 countries where it is endemic there is high distrust of the vaccine.  Many uneducated people think it is a plot to either cause women to be infertile, or give people a disease.  Much needs to be done to complete the task of eradicating polio, like we have done with smallpox.

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