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. 



Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

  News & Politics
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
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.