The widespread strategic implementation of polio immunization has reduced the number of reported cases by 99% since 1988. However, as long as there are countries where polio immunization is not widespread, there is a significant risk of this highly contagious virus exploding. The World Health Organization reports, “[failure] to eradicate polio from these last remaining strongholds could result in as many as 200 000 new cases every year, within 10 years, all over the world.” The strongholds referred to are some of the poorest and most dangerous countries in the world: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.

Polio is a viral infection that attacks the nervous system of non-immunized children. Children under 5 have the highest risk of contracting the virus. Polio sometimes results in partial or full paralysis, but there is no indication of who or why paralysis occurs. Paralysis can occur within a few hours of contracting the virus. Between 5 to 10% of the paralysis cases result in lung muscle paralysis and death.

Anyone can be a symptomless carrier. The infection can be spread without notice through person-to-person contact to thousands before the first case of polio paralysis emerges. The disease enters through the mouth and multiplies in the intestines. The virus is then excreted into the environment and spread through contaminated food and water. Flies are also suspected to transmit the virus.

A global action plan to eradicate polio calls on donors to make a down payment of 5.5 billion dollars which would take us to the 2018 end game. Another 1.1 billion dollars will keep the world polio-free for the foreseeable future. Compared to the 527.5 billion dollar US Department of Defense budget for 2013, this is a drop in the bucket that quantifiably improves human security. Defend our children from polio. Make total polio immunization a reality.

Katherine Zobre
Sources: WHO, Polio Global Eradication Initiative

The future of toilets in poor countries
What does the future of toilets in poor countries look like? The Gates Foundation hosted a competition to reinvent the toilet to process human waste without utilizing piped water, sewer or electrical connections and to transform waste into useful resources like water and energy.

The grand prize design was a solar-powered toilet that creates hydrogen and electricity. The second place prize was taken by a toilet that creates biological charcoal, minerals and clean water. A toilet that sanitizes feces and urine and recovers resources and creates clean water won third place.

Why all the excitement about toilets? In a nutshell, return on investments in sanitation is huge. For every dollar spent on sanitation, 5.5 dollars are returned. At a national level, lack of access to proper sanitation costs countries up to 7 percent of their GDP. In addition to being a smart investment, investing in sanitation is also a moral imperative. Diarrhea is the cause of an estimated 5000 child deaths every day. In areas where people defecate in the open or share large community bathrooms, women and girls are more frequently victimized.

Despite these striking numbers, improved sanitation is neglected at every political level. Without a drastic shift in strategies and the courage to undertake this stigmatized issue, the Millennium Development target of cutting the proportion of the population without access to clean water and basic sanitation by a half will be missed by a long shot.

In addition to the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge, the government of India is running multiple campaigns to improve sanitation such as the “No toilet, no bride” campaign and an information and shaming campaign aimed at changing the culture of open-space defecation.

The World Bank also recently wrapped up a sanitation hackathon where mobile phone application developers were challenged to create apps to improve sanitation. Many involved mapping public toilets and reporting malfunctioning toilets. Several were designed as games to teach children good sanitation.

Katherine Zobre

Sources: Gates Foundation , Global Poverty Project
Photo: The Guardian