December 3, 2005
Nice profile in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer of Ezra Teshome, an insurance broker who is leading the fight against a new outbreak of polio in Ethiopia and neighbouring countries (thanks to Nazret.com for the link).
Ethiopia was going to be declared a polio-free country last year after logging four years without a case of the disease. Then the first new infection was recorded in Tigray in December 2004. Analysis showed that it had spread all the way from northern Nigeria where polio cases had shot up after local religious leaders ordered people not to take the vaccine in August 2003. (One false rumour spread about the treatment was that it would sterilise them.) Following on from that one misguided order, polio has exploded in Nigeria, re-established a strong hold in Sudan, infected at least 18 children in Ethiopia and started spreading again in Eritrea and Somalia.
Huge progress has been made since the 1980s when entire continents had endemic polio. According to the successful Global Polio Eradication Initiative the number of polio cases worldwide has decreased from 350,000 in 1988, to 1,255 cases in 2004. But the Nigerian failure still amounts to a huge, frustrating set back.
One of the striking things about the current anti-polio campaign is that everyone is being so polite about that setback. No one, as far as I can tell, has officially blamed Nigeria for it. No leaders have shouted at leaders at international conferences. More surprising still, there are no international law suits flaying backwards and forwards between capitals. (Imagine what would have happened if the misguided campaign against the combined Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccine in the UK had resulted in a flare-up of any of those diseases among young children in France or the USA.)
One aid worker I spoke to about it last month came up with a classic liberal mea culpa when he said it wasn't the Nigerian religious leaders who were to blame. It was the aid workers who hadn't done a good enough job educating those leaders about the vaccine who were really at fault. That was all very nice and liberal. But I am sure a good international lawyer could still ask why those religious leaders did not stop to check the facts for themselves before ordering mothers not to protect their babies against a crippling disease.
In the meantime it is good to know that people like Ezra Teshome are out there helping to repair the damage. According to the SPi article, he does most of his anti-polio work through Rotary International which is asking for support for its PolioPlus campaign here.
Posted by aheavens at December 3, 2005 4:41 AM