Polio, once a global scourge, was on the verge of eradication in 2012. Since that time, it has reemerged as a global public health emergency according to the World Health Organization. Why has it now spread from its final strongholds in Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan to at least 10 countries spanning Asia, Africa and the Middle East? It’s not because of changes in the virus or ineffective vaccines. The answer is war, and as we all know, “truth is the first casualty of war.”
The Taliban claim that immunizations can cause infertility or worse, and violently obstruct polio vaccinators while vilifying them as part of a U.S. plot. Indeed, in years past, the U.S. CIA did a great disservice when it disguised its officers as polio vaccine workers in efforts to capture Osama Bin Laden, giving fuel to the Taliban’s false claims and violence.
Efforts to reclaim the momentum in eradicating polio will require a renewed global effort, and ultimately the elimination of war itself. In our ever-shrinking world, it is only a matter of time before we see this scenario play out with a resurgence of polio in the U.S. and West, as more and more young families avoid vaccinating their children against polio, thinking it is a disease of generations past and in some cases a disease they have never heard of.
Both war and polio should be eliminated and we can do both. It will take unprecedented collaboration among humans across national and cultural lines, and will involve many organizations and associations.
There may be no organization in the world better suited to take on some aspects of the challenge than Rotary International, with its longstanding mission of peace and peace building, and a dedicated membership of 1.2 million Rotarians joined together in service work though Rotary clubs in 220 countries of the world, including China and Russia.