Paul Lachine

Is Eradicating Polio a Good Idea?

The eradication of polio is a noble goal, but it is not the right one, for it is too costly - and, more importantly, it cannot be achieved. The best that can be done is to seek to control polio, and to hope that politics, economics, and ethics allow us to get that far.

PHILADELPHIA – Polio broke out in Central Asia this year, with 560 cases reported in Tajikistan. Cases have also been diagnosed in Russia and Uzbekistan, apparently transmitted by infected but asymptomatic people traveling from Tajikistan.

The Tajikistan outbreak is especially troubling, because the country had been certified by the World Health Organization as polio-free. Indeed, the drive to eradicate polio, as the Tajikistan tragedy shows, may be putting the entire world at risk. It makes no sense to talk about eradicating diseases like polio if a small outbreak in a remote part of the globe can rapidly spread and imperil billions.

That scenario is not merely hypothetical. The Western Hemisphere was certified as polio-free 20 years ago, but there were cases in Haiti and the Dominican Republic as recently as 2000. Four cases were reported in an Amish community in Minnesota in 2005, and many others have been reported in recent years in Angola, Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Benin, India, Nigeria, Somalia, Pakistan, Sudan, and elsewhere.

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