Pulling Together Against Polio

February 6, 2011

Torah Kachur

Torah on location in Mekele, Ethiopia

The anti-vaccination movement still has steam despite thousands of articles proving that vaccination isn't going to make your kid socially awkward, autistic or a rapist.  Instead not vaccinating  your children will expose them to terrifying diseases that we, in the Western world, don't have any grasp of.... like polio.


Polio (poliomyelitis) is a disease that is crippling people, economies and cultures.  It's caused by a viral infection that is spread by person-to-person fluid contact and, just in case you have a habit of playing with pooh, it is also spread by exposure to feces.  The vast majority (95%) of those infected with the virus just experience flu-like symptoms, which is good because the other option can include lifelong paralysis.


In a few percentage of cases the virus infects the central nervous system and can cause life threatening breathing difficulties, muscle weakness and eventual paralysis.  It is this version of the disease that causes the invalids lining the Piazza in central Addis Ababa and all the way to the highlands around Gich campsite in the middle of nowhere.  Those that survive a severe case of polio often have paralyzed limbs that form inhuman distortions of feet pointing in wrong directions, hips that don't quite form forcing people to walk on four limbs or even worse.  It's incredibly sad and heart-wrenching to see those that are affected by this disease. 

The polio vaccine costs about $1 which includes protection against measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus and pertussis - diseases that most people reading this probably know nothing about... that's because you were vaccinated.  Vaccination has effectively eradicated these diseases in the developed world, except of course in places with hippie parents like California where an outbreak of whooping cough (pertussis) has happened.  That means those kids aren't vaccinated against polio either... great.


If it's just about money (to most governments that is all it's about) then the polio outbreaks severly reduce the potential workforce, tax the healthcare system and remove family members of those affected from a full work day.  The costs of vaccination campaigns is higher than the $1/vaccine because of long distances to reach those in need of vaccination.  Thankfully, Bill Gates has spearheaded vaccination campaigns across Africa (where are you Jobs?) and funding initiatives are making headway.  Now if only the governments would also step up to the plate.....



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