Vaccination a common cause for all nations
Vastly different societies in the Mideast, Southwest Asia and Africa have found grim common ground - resurgence of polio. The highly contagious virus that causes paralysis and death is on the rise, prompting the World Health Organization to declare a rare international health emergency.
Polio was eliminated in the United States in 1979 through a long campaign of universal vaccination. And the virus was on its way to global eradication until its recent resurgence. According to the WHO, the virus has been carried into Afghanistan from Pakistan, into Iraq from Syria and into Equatorial Guinea from Cameroon. Other cases have been reported in Ethiopia, Israel and Nigeria, but those countries have contained the virus within their borders.
The WHO has asked countries with confirmed cases not to allow international travel by anyone who cannot prove his vaccination, or who will not accept a new one. The U.N. agency said about 60 percent of the newly reported cases are the result of international travel.
There are other steps. Governments, including the United States, must ensure universal vaccination. And governments should swear off the use of vaccination programs for intelligence gathering. After the United States attempted to get a DNA sample from residents of Osama bin Laden's Pakistan compound, using a polio vaccination campaign as a ruse, vaccination rates plummeted. Militants killed 9 polio vaccination field workers, and characterized polio vaccination as a Western plot to sterilize Muslim women - all of which has contributed to the rise in polio cases there and the virus' transmittal to neighboring Afghanistan.
The outbreaks call for attention by parents everywhere.
"If there's a lesson for us here in the United States it's that we have to keep vaccinating absolutely every child. If polio is reintroduced into this country, it will find those children whose parents are stretching out their immunization schedules, leaving them susceptible for longer periods of time," said Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University.
Just as the virus has ignored international borders and cultural differences, governments around the world should do so in renewing the campaign to eradicate it.