Starting, as we always like to, with some good news, we discover that the world is winning the war against polio.
Polio was once a feared disease worldwide, symbolized by the iron lung. I had an uncle who was crippled from childhood by polio. As recently as the 1980s, polio was present in 100 countries and paralyzed 350,000 people each year. Now, the disease is being driven to near extinction.
As a symbol of that, just over a month ago India marked three years since its last reported case of polio, a success achieved by a massive and sustained program of immunization. From 2009 to 2011, the number of new cases was driven down from 741 to 1. And now, zero.
In 2012, there were just 175 new cases of polio in the entire world, with all but 5 of those cases occurring in just three countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria.
Still, there is concern that despite all efforts, polio could make a comeback: In 2013, there were 372, mostly in conflict areas like Somalia and Syria, where polio had previously been eradicated.
At the same time, however, polio cases were still falling in the countries where it's considered endemic. A representative of the WHO said:
If the current trends of progress continue we could very easily see the end of polio in Afghanistan and Nigeria in 2014.And wouldn't that be something.