activism health

The end of polio

When I was a child in Madagascar, we used to walk through a little village on the way to school. There was a man in a wheelchair who used to sit out by the roadside, his legs shrivelled and twisted under him, stick-thin and useless. Polio, my mum told us – a terrible disease that has now been almost completely eradicated.

I say almost because over the 30 years, incidences of polio have declined by 99%. Unfortunately, the drive to eliminate it altogether has faltered with 1% of the global population still affected. Last year there were 1,349 cases of polio diagnosed, in just four countries: Nigeria, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan.

It wouldn’t take much to eliminate polio forever, and finish the work that began in the early fifties, when the disease still struck fear across the United States. Albert Sabin was the researcher who developed the cheap oral vaccine that was used across the developing world. His daughter Debbie, one of first people in the world to receive his vaccine, makes a personal appeal to deal with polio for good:

Despite the incredible progress in my lifetime, the potential to realise my father’s vision of eradicating this disease is currently at risk. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative, the public-private partnership leading eradication efforts, faces a significant funding gap for its 2011-2012 programs.

Sign the petition at The End of Polio to call for full funding for the Polio Eradication initiative, and let’s rid the world of polio forever.


  1. I agree with your plea to end polio, and agree that it can and should happen. But you need to check your facts. The first polio vaccine, “in the early fifties” was developed by Jonas Salk, MD. This is the preferred vaccine in the United States and most of Europe. Albert Sabin’s oral vaccine is used throughout the less developed countries and has advantages in this setting, e.g. easier to administer and less expensive. But Jonas Salk’s vaccine was the first, and was the vaccine of choice “in the early fifties.”

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