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OP-ED: Eradicating polio everywhere
January 18, 2014, 05:00 AM New York Times

It has been three years since the last new case of polio was reported in India. The country can now be declared polio-free. India’s victory is an important milestone in the global effort to eliminate polio. In 2013, just 250 people were paralyzed by polio. But the viral disease remains a threat. The World Health Organization reported 359 new polio cases as of Dec. 10, 2013, up from 213 in December 2012. And the number of countries where polio is present rose to eight from four between December 2012 and December 2013, with polio spreading out of Nigeria into the Horn of Africa and from Pakistan into the Middle East. Violent conflict and distrust of vaccination programs are to blame.

Cases of polio in Pakistan, where skepticism of vaccination efforts remains after the revelation that the United States Central Intelligence Agency used a fake vaccination program in its hunt for Osama bin Laden, rose to 85 in 2013 from 58 in 2012. The W.H.O. also reported 17 confirmed cases and 60 suspected cases of polio in 2013 in and along the borders of war-torn Syria, a country that had been free of polio for 14 years.

With eradication of polio so close, these nations need to redouble efforts to combat the disease. India can play a vital role. It has welcomed experts from polio-affected countries and has sent medical officers to Nigeria to help with eradication initiatives there. Pakistan is also enhancing its efforts. It has raised the salaries of vaccinators, created police and army escorts to ensure their safety and enlisted mullahs and imams to calm fears that vaccination is a Western plot.

In the most violent polio-affected areas, warring factions and rebel groups must be persuaded to embrace Unicef’s strategy where they agree to cease hostilities long enough for health workers to reach vulnerable populations. India’s technical and logistical success and Pakistan’s efforts to enlist trusted local leaders are important examples to follow. All of these tactics will be necessary to eradicate polio in 2014 and to ensure that by 2018 this terrible virus is gone for good.

 

 

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