Uh-Oh Polio

Recently, the New York Times reported that the polio virus was found in Jerusalem’s sewers. Polio had been largely eradicated in Israel; the last reported case of a paralytic polio outbreak was in 1988, which resulted in a nation-wide vaccination program that is still used today. Despite the rise of anti-vaccination supporters, Israel is making great progress in vaccinating the majority of children within its borders. Questions of “Where did the strain come from?” and “Does this mean polio may make a comeback like it did in Somalia?” are circulating news networks, but seem to be appropriately answered by Israeli officials. What we need to remember is that 1) The report did not speak about polio actually infecting any children in Israel 2) the strain of environmentally found polio has also been found in sewage samples in Cairo and 3) scientists believe it had originated from Pakistan (how it came into Israel is still to be determined). Israel’s national policy for vaccination is relatively more aggressive than that of other countries. Globally, the circumstances around polio vary from region to region, resulting in various eradication success rates in different countries. These circumstances were touched upon briefly at the end of class last week, with students mentioning the lack of funding and effective programs as two of many reasons public health issues still arise in some countries but not others. Each country has its own unique solution for dealing with these issues. Whether it’s widespread access to vaccinations in the case of Israel, Bollywood PSAs in India, or seeking outside help (like in the case of Somalia), policy makes a big difference in the achievement rate of global health goals set by countries.

So why did I mention this article? Well, as future leaders in public health, it’s important for us to read between the lines whenever a report about a new (or old, but once thought gone) disease surfaces. What data supported these claims being made about the incidence rate of a disease? What were the methods behind their attainment? Which politicians could we go to for support for research and/or policy changes to prevent the spread of X disease again? Was there a hidden agenda behind Country A providing support in Country B? Does this international aid have any strings attached? Were governments providing long term solutions or just “treating the symptom but not the disease”? All these thoughts and more should be going through our minds with each new headline surfacing. One day we may be the ones implementing policies (or at least, ensuring these policies were followed), so it’s better for us to begin thinking critically now so we already have this skill set when we finally enter the field later.

Edit: So it has come to my attention that the youtube video for Big B’s PSA on vaccinations isn’t opening for some people. I have embedded it for your convenience.

[Bollywood’s most famous leading men, Amitabh Bachchen and Shah Rukh Khan, talk about the importance of vaccinations.]

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