Discover Magazine, January/February 2013 by Todd Pitock

     Polio, wiped out in all but three countries, seemed headed for eradication.  But last year, politics and economics got in the way.

     Ultimately Rotary's aim is global polio eradication and this goal is tantalizingly close:  Infection rates dropped from some 350,000 new cases in 1988 to just 650 in 2011.  But 2012 saw two dangerous developments that threatened to reverse progress:  Decreased funding for anti-polio efforts and political resistance to vaccinations in regions where the disease persists.  "We're at a tipping point", says Carol Pandak, the program manager of Rotary's PolioPlus vaccination program.  With this years progress, eradication is within reach, but we need to overcome the obstacles and increase coverage in the remaining areas to reach our goal, she warns. 

     Polio is a highly contagious virus that usually spreads through feces and enters through the mouth.  It attacks the spinal cord and brain stem and can paralyze arms, legs and the muscles that control breathing, swallowing and speech. 

     The scale of this initiative funded largely by Rotary International, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Health Organiization (WHO), Unicef, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and many national governments, is unprecedented.  Health-care workers have immunized 2.5 billion children at a cost of more than $8 billion since 1988.  WHO estimates that, as a result, over 10 million children have been spared from paralysis. 

     The obstacles standing in the way of eradication are layered, from political conflict to lost funding.  False rumors have circulated in some countries from a 'Western plot to sterilize children to that the vaccination was a CIA plot using the health vaccination clinic to gather information for drone strikes'.  Diminished funding for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative has deepened the problem.  The lack of funds is already jeopardizing anti-polio efforts.  In August 2012, a discussion in the Lancet stated that 68 poiio campaigns in 33 countries have been canceled.  "We need to finish the job", Pandak says.  "If reduced funding continues, children will be susceptible and the virus will return and spread.  We'll be right back where we started".       by Todd Pitock