Friday, August 14, 2015

For a change ... I bring you good news!

A polio-free world is in sight.  Yes, a world without polio!
Since the initiative was launched by the assembly in 1988, the number of polio cases have reduced by 99%. The remaining 1% of cases can be found in the two countries with endemic polio – Pakistan and Afghanistan.
This is one of those rare moments when we humans deserve to stand up and congratulate ourselves.  Go ahead, pat yourself on your back.

Note that AfPak is the problem, in more ways than one!  The other notorious home for polio, Nigeria, is off the list; what an achievement, right?
It has been one full year since polio was detected anywhere in Africa, a significant milestone in global health that has left health experts around the world quietly celebrating.
A quiet celebration because of the recognition that the virus can always stage a comeback.  After three continuous years of no cases, the real celebration will begin.
“This is a big success, but it’s still fragile,” said Dr. Hamid Jafari, the initiative’s World Health Organization director. “There’s always a worry that there could be an undetected case in a population you’re not reaching.”
If you are like me, you then wonder how public health experts go around seeking confirmation.  (Maybe it is a good thing you are not like me, eh!)
How does one go about finding the polio virus across the expanse of an entire country or continent? There are now far fewer polio virus needles in the global haystack, which is fantastic news. But the remaining ones become even more difficult to find. We can’t stamp out a disease if we don’t know where it is. But with polio we do know where it is—and we know thanks to poop.
And now, if you are like me, you are puzzled.  What has poop got to do with polio.  That's how ignorant I am; turns out that all these years I hadn't bothered to find out how polio spreads!
When children get polio, the virus grows in their intestines and is excreted in the stool, and from there it spreads to other children. That’s why it has been so tough to beat polio in areas with poor sanitation. 
No kidding; now I understand why India eliminating polio within the country is such a cause for astonishment.  A country with extremely poor sanitation facilities managed to wipe out polio.  That's phenomenal!
The last case of polio in India was reported in 2011, an achievement once thought impossible. The country once suffered from more polio cases than anywhere else in the world, and the combination of dense populations, poor sanitation, and weak routine immunization programs led experts to suggest it would be the last place on Earth to drive out polio. Today, India’s polio story is one of historic success.
What more evidence does one need that we humans can achieve remarkable success, despite all the hurdles!
Since 1988, more than US$9 billion has been invested into the global polio eradication initiative.
What a wonderful use of nine billion dollars!  Let me put this in perspective:
The Marine Corps, the ascetic tribe of “Devil Dogs” that prides itself on being “the first to fight,” is getting a new weapon, announcing Friday that its version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is, at long last, ready to be unleashed in combat.
The announcement comes after years of testing and development, marking a significant milestone for the sometimes-beleaguered, often-criticized and always controversial $400 billion program, which is years behind its original schedule and billions of dollars over its original budget.
Got that?  400 billion dollars. For fucking fighter planes!  Ok, I shouldn't rant about the military expenditure because I want to bring you only the good news in this post ;)

So, brother, can you spare me a dime. Er, make that a billion dollars. To launch something similar to the war against polio.  Against the Ebola virus:
Last month, the New England Journal of Medicine published a bold proposal by three doctors for an international vaccine fund with an initial capitalization of $2 billion. That is far less than the $8 billion that Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, which had the most Ebola cases, say they need for recovery. Bringing a single new vaccine to market costs between $500 million and $1 billion.
The fund would be a boon to the biotechnology companies and university research centers that are already working on vaccines but don’t have the resources to get drugs approved and manufactured. And it would save lives.
Don't try telling me that we don't have the money for it.  You can never, ever convince me about lack of money.  Will stop here before I take off on a rant on our misplaced priorities! ;)


Ramesh said...

When it comes to public health there are some real heroes out there. Many many dedicated officials and volunteers deserve to be feted for an amazing achievement. But there are also leaders, who are strangely unsung, who have contributed as much as anybody else to make this happen.

No surprise that I would mention Bill and Melinda Gates. They have been a chief supporter of the eradicate polio mission and have hugely contributed, both in terms of money and in terms of effort.

You own President Carter, a big hero for the near eradication of the Guinea Worm scourge. It might be the next disease eradicated from the world, even before polio disappears from AfPak.

The Gates Foundation is targeting Elephentiasis, another disease affecting the poor.

Please bring more good news.

Anne in Salem said...

I haven't read the post yet; I am a couple of days behind. I wanted to offer a chuckle. One category on Jeopardy tonight was about Channing Tatum movies. Trebek described the movie and gave the character's name, the contestant had to name the movie. The sole female contestant was the only person even to guess at the entire category.

Anne in Salem said...

I understand from my reading that Afghanistan and Pakistan resist US endeavors against polio from a base of fear and mistrust. The assumption, I suppose, is that the US is using the vaccinations either to poison or brainwash the people, and the governments would rather let their people die than risk any US influence. I do not understand why they don't accept polio help from an ally or why an ally has no influence. The governmental attitude certainly gives the US an outsized amount of power if they think we can influence their people so easily. Yes, bravo to the Gates Foundation and all the governments and NGOs who led the charge.

I agree with Ramesh - more good news, please.

Sriram Khé said...

You remember that Channing Tatum reference in a post a few days ago ;)
And, how fascinating that it was the sole female contestant who wiped that category clean ... hehehe

Yes to the comments from you both ... those are some heroic people--especially at the ground level knocking on doors. Sometimes, those workers have been attacked and a few have even died. The tomb of the unknown soldier, unfortunately, does not recognize such soldiers who fight valiant battles against invisible enemies who want to kill us :(

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