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Polio Has Been Declared an International Public Health Emergency

Illustration for article titled Polio Has Been Declared an International Public Health Emergency

For the first time in its history, the World Health Organization declared the spread of polio around the world a public health emergency, cautioning that the recent spread of the disease should be considered an "extraordinary event."

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In the United States, polio is typically considered a disease of the past, thanks to the work of Jonas Salk (shout-out to the great report I did on Jonas Salk in third grade. Man that was a beautifully executed sculpey diorama.) But it's never gone away in many other nations, and the disease is currently an active presence in ten countries, having spread between countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan, Syria to Iraq and Cameroon to Equatorial Guinea.

In declaring the public health emergency, the WHO said they believe that the increase in polio cases has come from the spread of wild poliovirus among adult travellers.

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The WHO hopes to eradicate the disease entirely by 2018, but according to ABC News, there are some that worry that even with the $1 billion a year spent on the disease, that goal won't come to fruition.

"A coordinated international response is deemed essential to stop this international spread of wild poliovirus and to prevent new spread with the onset of the high transmission season in May/June 2014," the WHO said in a release. "The consequences of further international spread are particularly acute today given the large number of polio-free but conflict-torn and fragile States which have severely compromised routine immunization services and are at high risk of re-infection."

Vaccinate your children.

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Image via Majid Saeedi/Getty

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DISCUSSION

vagabondella
Vagabondella

Any discussion of a global resurgence of polio MUST include the fact that US intelligence officials posed as public health officials in Pakistan as part of their reconnaissance to secure Osama Bin Laden, going so far as to secure DNA samples from children in the compound under this ruse.

From the New York Times:

After the ruse by Dr. Shakil Afridi was revealed by a British newspaper a year ago, angry villagers, especially in the lawless tribal areas on the Afghan border, chased off legitimate vaccinators, accusing them of being spies.

And then, late last month, Taliban commanders in two districts banned polio vaccination teams, saying they could not operate until the United States ended its drone strikes. One cited Dr. Afridi, who is serving a 33-year sentence imposed by a tribal court, as an example of how the C.I.A. could use the campaign to cover espionage.

So, yes, absolutely. Vaccinate your children. But domestic vaccinations are not really at issue here. US intelligence officials using public health as a cover for clandestine opportunities has set back the cause of polio eradication by years, if not decades.