Polio’s Comeback

It wasn’t that long ago that the disease poliomyelitis, or polio, was feared all over the world, even in the most advanced countries. Polio is a contagious disease caused by the polio virus. While most people who are exposed to the virus do not show any symptoms, if the virus gets into the bloodstream or into the central nervous system, the results can be dire. In the worst cases, the virus may cause permanent paralysis. Polio became epidemic in the twentieth century and the worst outbreak in the United States was during the 1950’s. Every year, people dreaded the summer and the polio outbreak that would come. It must have seemed a near miracle when Jonas Salk developed the polio vaccine and ended the threat of polio. Polio rapidly became unknown in the West and it seemed that the disease would soon be eradicated worldwide.

Polio is making a comeback in the developing world, however. Is this because the vaccine has become ineffective? Have international health agencies lost interest in distributing the vaccine? No. What has happened is that Muslim authorities in several countries have become convinced that polio vaccination is a conspiracy against the Islamic world and have declared jihad against it. Here is the story in USAToday, which I found through Jihad Watch.

Once close to eradication worldwide, the dreaded disease polio is resurfacing in Muslim-majority countries where vaccinations are hard to come by due to war, religious edicts and ignorance, experts say.

The latest example comes this week in Syria, where a strain of polio originating in Pakistan has crippled more than a dozen children, according to doctors for the Kurdish Red Crescent. Cases have also been showing up in Somalia, Afghanistan and Nigeria.

The problem is prompting some polio-free countries to demand that visitors from high-risk countries take oral vaccines at the airport upon arrival if they cannot prove they’ve gotten the vaccine.

“The Saudi government has introduced restrictions for all those traveling to the Holy Land from polio-affected countries,” said Mazhar Nisar of Pakistan’s Ministry of National Health Regulations and Services.

“Every pilgrim is to take polio vaccine before traveling to Saudi Arabia and also upon arrival at any of the international airports in the Kingdom,” Nisar said.

It says something when the Saudi government, where they still execute people for witchcraft, is the voice of reason. Other people are far less sane about this matter.

In Pakistan’s Northwest territories, where Taliban clerics have significant influence, polio vaccination teams are maligned as un-Islamic or Western purveyors of poison meant to sterilize Muslim women.

A cleric in Pakistan’s Punjab province warned that a jihad would be launched against polio vaccination teams, whose mission he labeled a Western conspiracy, frightening away a team that arrived in Muzaffargarh, according to The Express Tribune.

This week, militants in northwestern Pakistan kidnapped 11 teachers involved in a polio vaccination campaign. Local official Khyali Gul said the teachers were taken from a school in the Bara area, close to Pakistan’s northwestern border with Afghanistan.

The United Nations in Pakistan pulled its staff involved in immunization from Pakistan after three eradication workers were shot in Peshawar and two of them were killed, in 2012. Since then, more vaccine teams have been targeted.

Without vaccination, the cases of polio are rising in Pakistan, as is the appearance of the Pakistani strain of polio in other countries where infected Pakistanis travel.

The Pakistani polio virus was found in sewage samples in Israel in June this year (the virus can be found in fecal matter of an infected person) and in Cairo in January.

It would be bad enough if the effects of this sort of idiocy were simply the spread of polio in places like Pakistan. In this age of rapid and easy travel, no disease can be stopped by national borders for very long. Despite any precautions by other countries, polio is likely to spread among the unvaccinated, even in Europe and America.

The World Health Organization says the once-rare disease could be resurrected and has declared a polio emergency across the Middle East. Allias Durray, a doctor who is the chief of polio eradication for Pakistan, warned that Europe may be next.

“After the Syrian polio outbreak and the flight of refugees in proximity to Turkey and European Union, it is evident that the polio virus is at the doorstep of Europe,” he said.

Not all countries check for polio vaccinations among foreign visitors from countries where polio is considered endemic. The United States requires immigrants be vaccinated, but not visitors.

“We collaborate closely with international organizations and other countries to make sure that international and U.S. guidance on vaccination for immigrants is implemented, said Donda Hansen, media spokesperson for the Center for Global Health at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta.

“The U.S. maintains ‘elimination status’ in the U.S. by aggressively investigating every suspected case to determine whether an importation has occurred, taking steps to prevent transmission, and safeguarding Americans,” Hansen said.

It’s too bad a general quarantine cannot be imposed against the parts of the world controlled by these fanatics until they see reason.

It is not clear why Islamic authorities would oppose vaccination. Inoculation or vaccination seems to have been invented in either China or India. It was widely practiced against smallpox  in the Ottoman Empire in the sixteenth century and European travelers from that country brought the knowledge of the procedure to Europe and America. There is no prohibition of the practice in any Islamic scripture or law that I know of. Medical products made from unclean animals like pigs have been ruled acceptable for use by both Jewish and Islamic authorities. It seems clear that saving lives is of greater importance than dietary purity. Perhaps the concern is not really religious at all, but stems from a general paranoia and hatred of the West. Whatever the cause, the fools making the fatwas will not be hurt as much as the innocents who will have their lives blighted by their ignorance.

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One Response to “Polio’s Comeback”

  1. Poliomyelitis | Risk and Policy Institute Says:

    […] Polio’s Comeback […]

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