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August 24, 2004

Will Polio Make a Comeback?

The World Health Organization had thought that polio was a thing of the past--a disease on the verge of being eradicated by an aggressive and long campaign of immunization. Now they warn of a growing threat fueled by ignorance, a lack of funding, and the continuing difficulties facing the organization as they try to administer vaccinations in 22 African nations.

Africa could be on the verge of a major polio outbreak, the World Health Organization has warned.

Mali and Guinea have reported their first cases of the disease in five years. Three cases have also been reported in the Darfur region of Sudan.
These latest cases are being blamed on problems vaccinating people in parts of Nigeria last year.

Islamic clerics in Kano state condemned immunisation campaigns as an American plot to make Muslim women infertile.

What are the root problems of many of Africa's most crippling problems? Ignorance and paranoia. Certainly, there are other issues (the fact that tribal loyalty is more important than national patriotism through many African nations, for instance), but many of the health, hygiene, and food production problems can be traced to a lack of education and paranoia about solutions provided by Western agencies.

While non-African developed nations and world organizations (like WHO) pour money and effort in feeding and immunizing Africans, and while aid throughout the cold war came often in the form of military and industrial equipment, education for Africans was often neglected (or, at least, the educational assistance was of mixed effect).

A baseline of education is needed to understand and combat some of the misconceptions about health and hygiene issues. While I would never suggest that humanitarian aid in the form of food or health care be shoved aside in favor of more focus on education, I would suggest that as long as general education remains insufficient, the cycle of dependence on outside aid will not only continue but also grow massively.

An effort to educate (specifically in rural areas) Africans in many nations remains a difficult task. There simply aren't enough teachers, isn't enough money, and families often simply don't see the value of sending their children to school.

If the goal is self-sufficient African nations that no longer rely on outside help for subsistence, who can join the world as developed nations, and who can begin to actually develop the economic potential that is trapped in their resource-rich continent, then the key isn't just shipments of grain. The key is to find a path to give the next generation the knowledge that it will take to rise above their current circumstance.

If the goal is to make ourselves feel better, then, by all means, let's just keep shipping grain and Band-Aids.

Polio is a preventable disease--and, at least nearly, an eradicable one. When the citizens of a nation are convinced that vaccination is just an American trick to cause infertility, the stumbling block isn't our capacity to fight that disease; the problem is that ignorance and paranoia are standing in our way. We need to find more effective ways of combating that ignorance.

Of course, recognizing the problem is the hard part. Finding a solution--well, that's far more difficult.

I'm open to suggestions.

Read the rest.

Posted by zombyboy at August 24, 2004 11:18 AM
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