Eradicating polio has moved into "emergency mode."
The disease is still present in only three countries in the world: Pakistan, Nigeria, and Afghanistan. India has had no recorded cases of the disease in a little over a year now, making it the most recent country to be taken off the list. But funding shortages have slowed down the ability to immunize children, with potentially dire consequences.
No one knows the consequences of contracting this crippling disease better than Boston radio station host Bob Oakes. Oakes had polio as a child and while he's gone onto live a wonderful life, it's not been without immense challenges.
“When I was a little kid, and we’re talking about the elementary school years and the early junior high school years, I spent virtually every summer in a hospital,” he said.
He’d spend those summers undergoing surgical procedures, where doctors would transplant tendons from parts of his body unaffected by polio into his right arm and left leg so he could have motion in those areas.
Polio eradication is in jeopardy, writes NPR's Scott Hensley. The nature of this disease is such that if, says the WHO, "... immunity is not raised in the three remaining countries to levels necessary to stop poliovirus transmission, polio eradication will fail."
It's not as if we're without options, however. Given the overall number of cases of polio last year dropped, and that polio remains on the global agenda, there is reason for hope. The World Health Assembly meets this week to discuss a range of public health issues including polio eradication. In a draft of its Global Vaccine Action Plan, the WHO made clear, "Immunization funding needs in the areas of research and development, procurement and
delivery are expected to more than double in the coming decade...Resources will need to be allocated more efficiently, with the relevant decisions guided by national priorities, capacity, clear information on the costs and benefits of choices, and improved financial management."
Though it seems like a public health issue which lives far away, being dealt with by officials we hardly know, we all have a role to play in ending this disease. You can keep up with the state of polio eradication through the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (which has moved into emergency mode), as well as through the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), which has activated its Emergency Operations Center in response.
What else can you do? Ultimately, simply knowing and understanding that polio is a disease which continues to afflict babies and children in these three remaining countries, and that speaking up about the importance of funding to keep up with vaccinating them in order to stem the tide, are important contributions towards keeping polio eradication efforts moving forward.
You can read the rest of Bob Oakes story here.
It's an important reminder of the impact of this disease; and another reason to continue the fight.