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Why polio hasn't gone away yet

By Austin Amuzie - Tuesday, July 31, 2012


(CNN) -- Two little girls in matching gingham jumpers -- Pam is crouching and pulling on her sister Patricia's leg brace -- appeared in a poster for the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis in the early 1950s. They'd both recovered from polio.
"The story always went that she would loosen my braces, so we could play better, because my legs would be stiff ... I had it worse than she did," said Patricia O'Neil Dryer, now 65 years old and living in St. Cloud, Florida.
The poster is from a time when polio was a crisis in the United States. Today, the disease has been almost entirely eliminated worldwide, and its "poster children" live in remote areas of violence-stricken developing countries.
Health efforts are close to wiping out polio, but two significant challenges remain: money and the operational logistics of getting the vaccine to people who need it.
On the precipice of eradication, it's worth taking a look at how far we've come with polio and what's left to be done.f e
Worldwide polio
There have been 96 cases of polio reported worldwide this year, said Dr. Stephen Cochi, a polio specialist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That represents a two-thirds reduction in cases compared with the same point in 2011. "We're on an acceleration path downward," he said.
Countries that have never been free of the disease are said to have endemic polio, and three remain: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. Besides those countries, Chad, which previously had been polio-free, is reporting five cases this year because of the virus crossing the border with Nigeria, Cochi said.
It's going to be hard to get the number of annual cases down to nothing because of difficulties remaining in those few countries, Cochi said.
The World Health Organization has an action plan for the next 18 months that could very well lead to eradication, says Oliver Rosenbauer, spokesman for polio efforts at the organization.
But there's a $945 million funding gap, he said. Already, polio immunization activities in 24 countries have been cut this year.
And then there are logistical issues of getting vaccines to the children who need them most.
In northwest Pakistan, the Taliban have imposed a ban on polio vaccinations, which could affect about 280,000 children who live in tribal areas in the region, according to the World Health Organization.
The local Taliban militants prohibited the vaccines to protest American drone strikes in the area. And this month, health workers and volunteers did not achieve their goal of immunizing children in North and South Waziristan.

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