For the second time since 2007, the World Health Organization has declared a global health emergency — this time because of an outbreak of polio centered in Pakistan, Syria, and Cameroon.
Although the three countries signed a 2007 global health treaty that compels all participating nations to pursue diligent vaccination of children, internal and external strife has slowed or halted those efforts. Vaccinating children isn’t the priority it should be during times of war and insurgency.
Consequently, the paralyzing virus, which has been eradicated in most of the world, has slipped over borders into neighboring countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq, and Equatorial Guinea.
The World Health Organization has imposed travel restrictions on the three nations where the outbreak is centered, but that won’t be enough to avert catastrophe if the virus continues to move across porous borders. Refugees bring the virus with them.
Only a regime of rigorous vaccination will work. But in Pakistan, where the outbreak is most serious, Taliban-influenced factions in North Waziristan have forbidden inoculation programs because they are suspicious of Western medicine and what they consider CIA plots.
In the 1950s, polio researcher Jonas Salk developed the polio vaccine, and millions of lives were saved worldwide. To get the vaccine to those who need it most requires international cooperation and good will.
It’s a modern tragedy that wars, strife, and misunderstanding are keeping this precious medicine from many of the world’s children.