After looking at a story on Scientific American's site, I spent a few minutes checking on the WHO's campaign to eradicate polio and the regularly updated world map of cases: here. I find this 22-year-old campaign compelling and dramatic, full of difficult science, human failings and yet still real hope. As of this week, the total number of cases reported in the world is 612. It was estimated that in 1980 there were 400,000 cases. There are now only four countries left that still have endemic polio: India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. But dramatic declines have occurred in these countries. In 2009 in India, there were 741 cases, but this year there have been only 29 so far. In Nigeria, there were 388 cases last year, and this year only 6 so far.
The difficulty of scrubbing the polio viruses out of the population was shown this year in the surprise outburst of polio cases in Tajikistan. That country had no reported cases for 19 years. But this year there have been 452 so far. As the number of cases worldwide drops, that makes events like those in Tajikistan stand out: This one outbreak has produced 74 percent of all cases reported in the world.
It is extraordinary that such a successful campaign has been carried out in such difficult places and under such difficult circumstances; it's a great continuing public health tale. The Wall Street Journal's Robert Guth recently had a story on successes, and continued fear of failure. Among the current most serious problems: the next three years of campaigning so far have a 50 percent shortfall in funds.