Wednesday, October 11, 2006

"We have met the enemy and they are us." Pogo

No one who was child in America during the early 1950s will forget polio. Our summers of fear. Fear of public swimming pools. Of the invisible stalker that could come seemingly out of nowhere and strike down the healthiest child. Nearly 60,000 cases in 1952, at the height of the epidemic. Someone near and dear to me was a victim the following summer. In 1937, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, himself crippled by the disease, established the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, soon known as The March of Dimes. Medical science was mobilized.

We know the triumphant story of Jonas Salk, Albert Sabin and the development of successful vaccines. In 1957, after mass inoculations, there were only 6000 cases in the U. S. By 1977, the wild polio virus had been eliminated from the country. The entire Western Hemisphere was certified polio-free in 1994.

The World Health Organization had hoped to drive the virus from the face of the Earth by the year 2000. Alas, war and poverty stood in the way. The global eradication of polio might still happen, but as usual humans are their own worst enemy. When will we learn that we are all in this together, one species, indistinguishable to viruses and other pathogens that take no notice of ethnicity, race or religion? Where is the Jonas Salk or Albert Sabin who can inoculate us against tribalism and religious superstition?