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. 


War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 11:13 AM Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

  News & Politics
War Stories
Sept. 23 2014 4:04 PM The Right Target Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would a Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 4:09 PM Vince Vaughn Will Star in True Detective Season 2
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 1:50 PM Oh, the Futility! Frogs Try to Catch Worms off of an iPhone Video.
  Health & Science
Sept. 23 2014 1:38 PM Why Is Fall Red in America but Yellow in Europe? A possible explanation, 35 million years in the making.
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.