War Is Keeping Us From Eradicating the World's Worst Diseases

How It Works
Oct. 31 2013 12:10 PM

War Is Keeping the World From Eradicating Polio

An Afghan health worker administers a polio vaccination to a child on the first day of a vaccination campaign in Herat, Afghanistan, on Oct. 6, 2013.

Photo by Aref Karimi/AFP/Getty Images

As is often the case, armed conflict is saving a deadly disease from the brink of extinction. The World Health Organization has confirmed an outbreak of polio in Syria, the country’s first since 1999. Twelve children have already been confirmed as infected, but thousands more likely are. In the midst of war, mass displacement, and the collapse of the country’s health care system, the country’s immunization rate dropped from 91 percent in 2010 to 68 percent today.

This isn’t an isolated case. Though health groups still say polio could be eradicated entirely by 2018, recent outbreaks in Pakistan and Somalia are making this more likely. (The threats of violence against health workers in Pakistan aren’t helping matters.)


Polio also isn’t the only disease being kept alive by political violence. Guinea worm, a painful parasite once common in Africa and Asia, was thought to be on the verge of eradication, but health workers warned earlier this year that violence in Mali could hamper efforts to eliminate it entirely.

In both cases, it’s been demonstrated that science has the means to wipe these diseases out, if only politics didn’t keep getting in the way.

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 



The World’s Politest Protesters

The Occupy Central demonstrators are courteous. That’s actually what makes them so dangerous.

The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:58 PM The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The Fashion World Has Made “Feminist” a Meaningless Label

The Feds Have Declared War on New Privacy Measures From Apple and Google

These “Dark” Lego Masterpieces Are Delightful and Evocative


Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.


Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

  News & Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 6:39 PM Spoiler Special: Transparent
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?