Confessions of a Quackbuster

This blog deals with healthcare consumer protection, and is therefore about quackery, healthfraud, chiropractic, and other forms of so-Called "Alternative" Medicine (sCAM).

Friday, May 13, 2005

Bigotry sparks rebirth of disease

Bigotry sparks rebirth of disease

Polio, the crippling, sometimes fatal disease that once afflicted millions of people throughout the world, had been nearly eradicated at the end of the 20th century. Effective, inexpensive vaccines had nearly accomplished one of the great triumphs of medical science.

Then political and religious fanatics stepped into the picture. Now polio is making a comeback.

Polio had not been reported in Indonesia since 1995. Then, just recently, an 18-month-old girl in West Java was diagnosed with the disease. Indonesian officials say the strain of polio present in their country is similar to one in Nigeria, where the disease has found a welcome haven, thanks purely to bigotry.
The bigotry to which we refer is anti-Americanism.

In 2003, Muslim leaders in Nigeria began urging followers to refuse to accept vaccination against polio. The vaccine, according to the Islamic leaders, was part of a plot led by the United States to give Muslims AIDS or render them infertile. Many Muslims refused to allow themselves or their children to be immunized. Polio began spreading in Nigeria and in countries with links to that nation.

By last year, 1,267 cases of polio had been reported throughout the world. Of that total, 792 cases were in Nigeria. In 12 countries where it had been thought the disease was eradicated, new cases have been reported.

Civil authorities in Nigeria have responded to the crisis - and it is just that - with emergency public health campaigns. But bigotry led by religious leaders is difficult, if not impossible, to combat and polio remains a serious threat to Nigerians. This isn't the first time a serious menace to public health has gotten a boost from religious and political leaders.

In a few African nations, efforts to combat AIDS are being hamstrung by the regimes' insistence that AIDS simply isn't a problem. In other situations, U.S. companies have shipped millions of doses of medicine to combat diseases to Africa, where the drugs were allowed to rot in warehouses.

Clearly, a serious, coordinated response to such obstructionism is needed. At some point, the United Nations, which to date has limited its response to pleas for cooperation, may need to take a more forceful stand. Perhaps, the U.N. can use economic sanctions to force cooperation with public health initiatives intended to save the lives of those being misled with deadly consequences by religious and political fanatics.