Saturday, 5 February 2011

Eradicating Polio in Africa, Too

Everyone is talking polio this week thanks to Bill Gates and his new mission to eradicate the disease (see here and here and here). Which is great. Eradicating polio is a great idea, particularly as this is clearly a last-mile problem when you consider that there has already been 99% reduction in the last 20 years.

A lot of the discussion, however, has been primarily (or exclusively) about the polio-endemic countries, of which there are only four (see this infographic). Fair enough, that's where the problem originates, but polio still exists in the whole of Africa, the Middle East and large portions of South-East Asia. That is quite a lot of the world's population. In Angola, 32 cases of polio were registered in 2010. In the DRC and Congo Republic there were 93 and 50 respectively.

During rainy season in the slums of Luanda, water floods the streets and forms muddy puddles that pose a health threat to neighbourhood children.
Preventative medicine in the form of vaccines is great (and necessary) and should be spread as far as possible as quickly as possible but the same factors that put children at risk for so many other diseases (cholera, diarrhoeal diseases). Water and sanitation infrastructure are supremely unsexy but governments must be pushed to invest more in this basic infrastructure that will keep people safe and healthy. 

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