Editorial: Polio conquered — almost
A faded document in files at the Salisbury Post inventories Rowan County’s polio cases in 1954.
Editorial body copy:Twenty-six patients were hospitalized with polio, and nine were treated at home. Four patients spent some time in an iron lung. One patient wound up on crutches. Three had braces on their legs. One patient had braces on both arms. And four cases of polio hit one family — the mother and three children.
Iron lungs and leg braces may sound like something from the Dark Ages to parents today, and it’s easy to see why. That same year, 1.3 million U.S. children took part in a test of a new polio vaccine, and the disease has since been eradicated from this country. The biggest step forward locally came on March 22, 1964, when nearly 54,000 people of all ages — 75 percent of the county’s population — lined up at clinics to take the first dose of the Sabin oral polio vaccine. The scene was repeated all across the country.
Polio is history in the United States, thanks to the successful use of the polio vaccine. And today, on World Polio Day, we’re very close to eradicating polio from the face of the earth. A mere 170 cases have been reported worldwide this year — down from 467 last year. But that’s 170 people too many, and more than one international organization is pushing for complete eradication. Only three countries report active cases: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. “The challenges to administer vaccines to every child are huge and the environment is hostile,” says the World Polio Day website.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Rotary International, UNICEF, the World Health Organization and other groups continue to fund worldwide immunization programs that are essential to continuing the fight against polio. In addition to making inroads in the countries mentioned above, they work to keep immunization programs going year after year around the world to prevent a reintroduction of the virus into polio-free countries. That effort is expected to cost $2.19 billion this year, and it’s running short by some $900 million.
The viral nature of polio and its crippling effects made it one of the most feared diseases of the 20th century in the United States. It was crippling an average of more than 35,000 Americans each year. Americans cannot let down our guard just because it’s been gone from this country for 30 years.
The website, www.endpolionow, is full of information on what you can do to help prevent polio’s return. If we can eliminate polio from the planet, dozens of other diseases could follow. This is a historic moment, and one that is meaningful to people – especially children – the world over.