In this world, there are over 12,000 diseases caused by either bacteria or viruses, and most of them are yet to be discovered. One of the dreadful diseases revealed is polio (which is shortened for poliomyelitis) (Ballard). The polio virus enters the body through the mouth, multiplies in the throat and intestine, and spreads through the blood to the central nervous system. Thus, the virus attacks the CNS, which can lead to paralysis. The paralysis would start with the legs, and would be visible due to the atrophy, and the muscles wasting away due to the lack of use (Hecht). Many have spent their whole life in iron lungs due to paralysis in the chest muscles (Ballard). There are three types of polio: mild, non paralytic and paralytic (Hecht). Only 1% of all polio patients develop paralytic polio (Hecht).
In 1947, as Jonas Salk searched for a vaccination, he came upon the conclusion that a chemical called formaldehyde can eliminate the virus (Ballard). Another scientist named Albert Sabin desired to weaken the virus, instead of killing it (Ballard). Thus, this lead to the invention of oral vaccines that people can swallow (Ballard). A severe disease called post-polio syndrome, which is an illness of the nervous system develops, and can appear 15-50 years after a patient has been affected by polio (Hecht). People and children can contract polio due to a variety of factors, which are present in several third world countries. It still remains to be an underlying health problem in many developing countries (Ballard).
The following is a case study about the several societal and political factors that are affecting Pakistan’s polio eradication program. Pakistan is one of the four countries (along with Nigeria, India, and Afghanistan) in which polio has remained endemic since the World Health Assembly in 1988 (Katz). In the early 1990s, almost 20 000 cases of polio were reported, although, the numbers have been fluctuating up and down ever since (Katz). Firstly, immense floods in the summer of 2010 have ravaged the Swat Valley in Pakistan resulting in the displacement of millions of people, the absence of running water and electricity, and the closure of at least 500 health clinics and facilities (Katz). Secondly, the weaknesses in the delivery of services and issues of poor health systems’ governance are a major factor in the failure to achieve eradication (Nishtar).
Lastly, the absence of polio vaccines from non-health sectors such as war and conflict zones and the refusal of parents to vaccinate their children have increased the number of polio cases in the country (Nishtar). The challenges and threats Pakistan faces in the eradication of Polio jeopardizes the world wide efforts, and as long as a single child remains infected, children in all countries are at risk of contracting polio (Nishtar). In general, the polio virus is highly contagious and each and every country that is still under the threats of polio must be careful and responsible enough to see the warning signs before it is too late. Polio usually develops as the result of contact with either polluted water or the mosquitoes that breed in such water. (Bano et al.) Also, the improper sanitization and lack of clean water and electricity promotes the growth of deadly viruses and bacteria (Bano et al.). The only remaining solution for Pakistan is to develop a plan for National immunization days, where the entire government must educate every one of its citizens to vaccinate their children and reduce the risk of contracting polio (Nishtar).
After so many dreadful years, India and Nigeria have shown promise of possibly attaining eradication in the next several years (Kelland). Other countries have diligently strived to eradicate polio by spending over $6 million dollars on vaccination campaigns (Draper). Comparable to the Pakistan case study stated above, there are many issues that contribute to polio’s existence in developing countries. There is an increased rate of international travel which contributes to the spread of polio (Hecht). If the world wants to eradicate polio permanently, we must try to contain the virus, involving all the countries’ laboratories, identifying and destroying the source of polio viruses and establishing a post eradication immunization policy with W.H.O (World Health Organization) (Hecht). Each developing country also has to determine the diverse economic, cultural, social and geographical factors responsible for the persistence of polio (Bano et al.).
Other reasons of polio still being wide spread are due to the low levels of literacy (causing the community to be unaware of vaccines), people following an unhygienic life, laborers who do not properly wash their hands before eating and improper drainage systems (Bano et al.). Additionally, a large number of children are malnourished and extremely poor and health workers impose costs for vaccination services that are meant to be provided for free (Nishtar).
Despite almost a billion dollars being donated for campaigns encouraging polio eradication, due to a shortfall of funds and lack of transparency in governance (Nishtar), there is much delay in interrupting the poliovirus transmission in third world countries (Kelland). According to Donaldson, who is the Chairman of the National Patient Safety Agency in UK, “These are the children that the world forgot, growing up with no protection from polio at a time when most of the world’s parents have long forgotten what polio even is.” He also mentioned that, “If the funding gap isn’t bridged, future generations will surely look back and wonder how this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to destroy polio…was allowed to slip through our fingers.” (Kelland)
In conclusion, polio used to be an endemic before the 20th century and is still a major dilemma in third world countries today. We should be obliged to take action for this crisis and eradicate polio once and for all. Factors promoting the spread of polio, including poor sanitation, inadequate amount of clean supplies and low levels of literacy, require attention and should be solved with the assistance of money, dedicated health care workers and the government. Education, experimentation and discoveries which grow out of them are the best tools to protect the health of others (Hecht). All in all, the lesson to be learned is that the fight against infectious diseases will never come to an end and we must continue to strive on to at least reduce the risk of those in our society obtaining these diseases or illnesses.
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Hecht, Alan. _Deadly Diseases and Epidemics: Polio_. New York: Chelsea House Publishers. 2003.
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