For only the second time in seven years, the World Health Organization has declared a global health emergency because of an outbreak of polio centered in Pakistan, Syria and Cameroon.
Although the three countries are signatories to the 2007 global health treaty that compels nations to pursue the aggressive vaccination of children, internal and external strife in some countries has slowed or halted those efforts.
Consequently, the paralyzing virus, which had been eradicated in most of the world, has begun slipping over the border into neighboring states 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, researcher Jonas Salk developed the polio vaccine at the University of Pittsburgh, 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 superstition are keeping this precious medicine from many of the world’s children.