Why is Polio Still Around?
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An Afghan health worker administers the polio vaccine to a child during a vaccination campaign in 2010 in Kabul, Afghanistan

Polio, which plagued humans for thousands of years, is on the verge of being wiped out. Compared with 1988, when the virus was found in 125 countries, today it’s only in three: Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. But they pose stiff challenges.

In these countries logistics and politics are blocking the elimination of polio, and a lack of money makes the effort even tougher. The main problem is getting the vaccines to children in remote areas, which is complicated by geo-politics, much of which is anti-U.S.

For instance, the Taliban banned the vaccinations in Northern Pakistan to protest American drone strikes. Elsewhere in Pakistan, a community worker with the anti-polio campaign was shot and killed.

What’s driving some of the violence is a distrust of humanitarian workers. A polio vaccine program in Nigeria was undermined by rumors that the vaccine is unsafe and part of a plan to sterilize Muslim children.

Exacerbating the distrust was the CIA’s fake vaccination campaign to locate Osama Bin Laden. They planned to use DNA obtained by administering a Hepatitis B vaccine to identify Bin Laden’s children and thus find the terrorist. Revelation of the ruse enraged locals and put healthcare workers at risk.

These polio-endemic countries continue to place polio-free countries at risk for imported cases. An outbreak in China in early 2012 paralyzed 17 children, killed two, and may have come from Pakistan. Sadly, they were avoidable with a vaccine that costs just fifty cents a dose.

A valiant effort by multiple non-profits and governmental agencies is now underway to rid the last vestiges of this disease. Let’s hope this time it works.

For more information…

Poliomyelitis (Polio)
PubMed Health offers this informational page on polio.

Why polio hasn't gone away yet
Excellent and interesting CNN Health article with a history and background on polio

Infections: Polio
Lots of good info from KidsHealth.

Polio eradication: A must-win battle in the global war on disease
A white paper from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is one of the organizations working toward eradicating polio in the world today. Watch a video on their efforts or make a donation here. Other organizations heavily involved in the fight include the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, Rotary International, World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, and the CDC.