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Worldwide polio outbreak undermines eradication efforts

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As predicted last fall, political upheaval, wars in the Middle East and government implosion in Nigeria sadly threaten the success of the worldwide effort to eradicate polio. The World Health Organization warned that the spread of polio to new countries may undermine the remarkable success of the United States government, Rotary International and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to eliminate this scourge from the Earth.

On May 2, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention corroborated the depressing news of the explosion of polio cases by saying, “According to global polio surveillance data from April 29, 2014, 68 polio cases have been reported from Afghanistan, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria. In 2013, a total of 417 polio cases were reported from the following countries: Afghanistan, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia and Syrian Arab Republic.”

The CDC report reminded its audience that the incidence of polio has dropped more than 99 percent since the launch of global polio eradication efforts in 1988. It has been more than three years since that there was a child paralyzed with the wild polio virus in India.

The virus is still being transmitted, however, striking down children in Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. Angola, Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which were once polio-free, are experiencing transmission of the virus.

The CDC warns that the re-emergence of the disease raises “concerns that a window of opportunity to eradicate this crippling and sometimes deadly disease may be closing.”

CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden said, “If we fail to get over the finish line, we will need to continue expensive control measures for the indefinite future. ... More importantly, without eradication, a resurgence of polio could paralyze more than 200,000 children worldwide every year within a decade.”

This issue is not thousands of miles from here in Jefferson County, where only 43.5 percent of children aged 19 to 35 months are immunized from hepatitis B, rotavirus, diptheria, tetanus, acellular pertussis, haemophilus influenza Type B, pneumococcal conjugate, inactivated poliovirus, measles, mumps, rubella, varicella, hepatitis A and meningococcal.

The New York State Department of Health reports in contrast that more than 69 percent of Lewis County and 62 percent of St. Lawrence County children are protected from these diseases. The Jefferson County numbers may be skewed because of the turnover rate at Fort Drum. Regardless, the numbers are depressing.

We live in a world accessible by airplane through mostly open borders. That freedom brings with it a cost of the possible transmission of polio, which then threatens the most vulnerable members of our society.

The bad news from Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria should remind parents that their infants need protection from polio. No child should ever face a life coping with a paralyzed leg or arm because their parents did not afford them the basic protection of the immunizations that American medical science has created to provide lifelong protection.

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