Friday, February 25, 2005

It's Now or Never

When I contracted polio in 1954 at age 9, the year before Dr. Salk's vaccine was invented, I had minimal side-effects and no negative memories. In fact, if anything, I had good memories: the girl down the hall (who went to the iron lung every day) had a toy guitar with a hand crank that played music. Next thing I knew, I had one (from Grandpa Bennett, I think). In high school, I was exempt from gym because of the unknown side-effects at that time...and, too bad, because I could have whipped them all! I do remember going every year to have my legs measured; and I remember the not-so-good drama of holding still for the spinal taps. But all in all, I was one of the lucky ones, with no paralysis.

The good news after the 1955 vaccine, we thought, was that poliomyelitis was totally eradicated from the earth. Sadly, it's now endemic in 6 countries: Nigeria (786), India (135), Pakistan (53), Niger (25), Afghanistan (4), and Egypt (1). And now I see from today's paper that Ethiopia has just had its first case in 4 years.

The thing is, polio can be prevented by an oral vaccine if we can get it to everyone! “By reaching children cut off from the eradication effort by insecurity and the threat of violence, African leaders have a real opportunity to halt polio’s advance,” said Dr. Ezio Murzi, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa. "If we succeed in polio eradication, we can certainly move ahead for the other diseases like HIV/ AIDS."

One more reason for world peace. May God help us all!

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