The Ebola outbreak may not yet be under control, but the campaign against polio shows that diseases can be eradicated on a global basis
It seems that there is scarcely a day in the year that isn’t dedicated to one disease or another. Indeed, some conditions have whole weeks or months officially devoted to drawing attention to the plight of those suffering from them and raising funds for continuing research into finding a cure or a prevention.
And while there is much that is laudable about increasing public awareness of serious conditions by drawing attention to symptoms that might otherwise be overlooked and even – but probably not often – encouraging preventative lifestyle changes, there is a fine line to be drawn between creating educated potential patients and incipient hypochondriacs.
In the litany of dedicated disease days, there is rarely anything to celebrate. One exception is World Polio Day, celebrated on 24 October to commemorate the birth of Dr Jonas Salk who developed the vaccine that has all but eradicated the virus worldwide. Polio is now endemic in only three countries: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. Although there are still occasional outbreaks elsewhere, a rapid, strong international response has prevented the disease from re-establishing itself.
Thanks to the development of effective vaccines and a concerted global effort co-ordinated by the WHO, the battle against the crippling effects of polio is all but over.
But as one war ends another continues to heat up. The Ebola outbreak shows no sign of abating and some are now suggesting that it may be a year or more before it is brought under control.
A global influenza pandemic has long been predicted and the international community, national government and global health organisations have well-established plans in place to deal with this when – rather than if – it happens. Unfortunately, the Ebola outbreak has caught the world on the hop, and left pharmaceutical manufacturers struggling to catch up.
But World Polio Day is testament to what can be accomplished. It would be good to think that in a few years’ time we could be celebrating World Ebola Day.