The Virus and the End of Polio

I’ve been following the struggles to end polio for some years. Of course, coronavirus now intensifies my interest. While it’s been eradicated in most of the world, several countries were and are challenges. Somalia finally overcame its problems with the Puntland in 2014. Angola had a resurgence and was able to overcome it. This August Africa was at last declared polio-free. It is because the state of Borno in Northern Nigeria has finally been able to keep its new cases at bay thus enabling the Africa Regional Certification Commission to declare success. Borno is a remote region, a seat of Boko Haram, and the health workers, usually women, bringing the vaccine had a very hard time there including fighting the idea that the vaccine made women infertile. Several lost their lives. To note is that the testimony and examples of polio survivors along with the involvement of the WHO were important part of this achievement. The African success is more than statistics, or the words polio-free. It is a triumph over obstacles conquered one by one over a number of years. It therefore makes it a big achievement not only for Africa, but for the world. Afghanistan and Pakistan are now the only 2 countries left where polio exists. The health workers there face even more obstacles than they did in Northern Nigeria. Many leaders in those countries, particularly in rural areas think of the vaccine as a tool of the Western world, and want little to do with it. In countries where vaccination rates are low, there is also the risk polio could return. While those of us in the West need not be concerned, there is still a little way to go (by comparison to where we began) before the disease can be totally conquered. What makes this story particularly relevant to our struggle with coronavirus is that there is no cure for polio, just as there is no cure for Covid-19. Polio is not as lethal as our present virus can be, and is more likely to affect children under five, sometimes paralyzing them for life or even being a cause of death. Since 1952 when the Salk vaccine was first utilized, polio eradication has been a process. We are so eager for any kind of solutions to our present adjustments that we may not want to admit that our fight with coronavirus is likely to take time. But what is important to remember is that it is not how long it takes, it is being successful that matters in the end.

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