The iron goes | Bill Gates


Most people today probably don’t know what it is:

And that’s a good thing because it shows how much progress the world has made against polio, a terrible and now largely forgotten disease.

This metal reservoir is an iron lung, a mechanical respirator that has saved the lives of thousands of polio victims.

Polio attacks the body’s nervous system, paralyzing patients. In the worst cases, the disease paralyzes their respiratory muscles and makes it difficult for them to breathe, sometimes leading to death.

Using changes in atmospheric pressure, the Iron Lung draws air in and out of a patient’s lungs, allowing them to breathe and stay alive.

At the height of the polio epidemic in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s, rows of iron lungs filled hospital wards treating thousands of polio patients, mostly children.

The reason we don’t see iron lungs anymore is because of polio vaccines, which were first developed in the 1950s. Vaccines have been so effective in protecting people against polio that in 1988, the world decided to eradicate the disease. Since then, wild polio cases have fallen by more than 99.9%, from more than 350,000 cases a year in 125 countries to less than 200 cases last year in just two countries: Afghanistan and Pakistan. . Thanks to this eradication effort, millions of people are walking today who otherwise would have been paralyzed.

Our foundation joined the fight against poliomyelitis nearly 15 years ago. And all the while, I can’t think of a more important moment than now.

During the pandemic, the world has been reminded of what a valuable resource the global polio program is. Thousands of polio workers have redirected their efforts to help contain the spread of COVID-19 by teaching communities how to stay safe, distributing soap and hand sanitizer, and supporting disease surveillance and research contacts. Polio emergency operations centers – local field-based offices that work to urgently stop the spread of polio and have also fought other diseases, including Ebola – quickly pivoted to guide the response to COVID-19. And the Global Polio Laboratory Network, which consists of 145 laboratories around the world, has stepped in to support COVID-19 surveillance efforts.

We have what it takes to finally wipe polio off the face of the earth. the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, a public-private partnership of which our foundation is a part, has proven it can meet local challenges to eliminate polio in country after country. The initiative continues to focus on adopting new tools and approaches to make immunization campaigns more effective so that every child can be protected. And, most importantly, we have thousands of dedicated polio workers committed to this business.

At the same time, to be frank, we are in danger of losing the achievements for which we have fought so hard.

We still haven’t reached the regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Outbreaks of other forms of poliomyelitis continue to appear in underimmunized communities across Africa and parts of Asia. And the pandemic continues to interrupt polio campaigns and routine vaccinations.

To meet these challenges, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative has adjusted its strategy, including strengthening its integration with other health programs, improving immunization coverage and the overall health of local communities. The knowledge, skills and infrastructure put in place to end polio and all the suffering it causes will also be used to detect and respond to other major health emergencies. It’s a win-win investment.

But it will need continued support and resources, including from historic champions like the United States, United Kingdom and United Arab Emirates, to deliver on those promises.

The iron lung was one of the best tools to fight against one of the worst consequences of poliomyelitis.

Today, it is the iron will of thousands of polio workers and their supporters who have pledged to finish the job.

With the commitment of Rotary and other partners, and the dedicated political leadership of polio-affected countries, I am confident that we can create a world where no child is ever paralyzed by polio again.


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