This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Polio Survives in the Midst of Violence

This year marks fifty years since Jonas Salk, then at the University of Pittsburgh, developed the first vaccine against polio--a devastating disease that leaves even its survivors maimed for life, as anyone knows who has read a biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt. There is no known cure, so the only way to avoid its consequences is to not get it--which is facilitated by immunization. Over the past several years the world has been on the verge of extinguishing polio. Indeed, last week, India, where polio was once rampant, celebrated one year of being completely free of new cases. However, the Nature News Blog reports that there has been a jump in polio cases in Afghanistan.

When Afghanistan instituted a door-to-door polio vaccination policy in 2000, the complete eradication of the disease seemed within reach. Between 1999 and 2004, the number of new cases fell from 63 to 4.
However, with the escalation of violence in the country in 2005, hopes for complete elimination diminished as vaccinating became more difficult. Figures just released by the Afghanistan Ministry of Health indicate that between 2010 and 2011 the number of new infections tripled, from 25 to 76 cases.
The disease remains endemic in only three countries — Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan — and has recently re-emerged in Chad, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s no coincidence that each of these countries is also a region of ongoing conflict. Political insecurity, violence and poor infrastructure each have a major role in the persistence of the last 1% of the disease.
I became personally aware of this risk in west Africa when it was recommended to me by Kaiser Permanente here in Southern California that I receive a booster vaccination before I left for Ghana a couple of weeks ago. I readily agreed.

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