Quick Hits: Really bad, sad news dept.
See this update on the state of the war against polio.
A little context: In this post, I made a glancing reference to the eradication of smallpox, a victory achieved in 1979 after a twelve year campaign. It is still the only human viral pathogen to have been completely eliminated from the wild.
The effort to eradicate polio formally got under way in 1988. By 2006, endemic polio remained in just four countries, Nigeria, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It still does today.
One of the reasons that the disease has not progressed rapidly to elimination is because of a deep, anti-science bias within the remaining affected communities, couched in Islamic fundamentalist terms. In Pakistan, site of the most recently reported case, (an eight month old girl — have a thought for this tiny stranger amidst the larger fury of the day), the impact of the Taliban and allied militants in the border territories has basically stifled the anti-polio campaign.
For example, last November, the New York Times reported, inter-alia, that Maulana Fazlullah, leader of one of the pro-Taliban movements in the region demanded a halt to polio vaccinations for children, claiming that the vaccination made men impotent.
Such nonsense is hard to combat, especially when backed up by credible death threats to vaccine workers.
This is clearly first and foremost a home-grown, and tragically self-destructive pathology within the communities in which endemic polio persists.
But at the same time, there is no doubt that the war on terror makes it harder to push past such craziness to perform basic public health. As the Times story concluded:
Moving the polio campaign back into those restive areas depends on “local teams adapting constantly to the conflict,” as the W.H.O. delicately put it in its most recent annual report. Or in the words of Dr. Bruce Aylward, the campaign’s director, ‘’We dialogue with NATO and tell them, ‘These are the days of our campaigns, these are our people — don’t bomb them!’ ”
And yet — at least according to the Times, (quoting a UC Davis researcher, Chris Albon)
“vaccination programs can be an effective strategy for winning hearts and minds.
So while the wars in region are implicated in the persistence of an eradicable scourge under the heading of unintended consequences — it is at least conceivable that those campaigns might be advanced by the soft-power of a public health campaign. Here’s hoping.
Image: NIcholas Poussin, “La Peste d’Asdod” (The Plague of Ashdod) 1630-31. Source: Wikimedia Commons.