Pure, Unadulterated Good News

by Belle Waring on January 18, 2012

For the first time, India has gone a full year without a new polio case, the World Health Organization announced last week.

The last case, the only one in 2011, was of an 18-month-old girl in West Bengal State whose sudden paralysis was confirmed as polio on Jan. 13. There were 42 known cases in 2010.

Polio eradication officials described a year without new cases as a “game-changer” and a “milestone” because India was for decades one of the biggest centers of the disease.

All from the NYT article. I…can’t think of anything bad about this at all! Don’t help me.



Bruce Baugh 01.18.12 at 3:32 am

Oh WOW. That really is wonderful news. Thank you.


Matt 01.18.12 at 4:25 am

Don’t help me.

How about, makers of crutches, leg braces and things like that might face harder economic times in the near future? There’s a down-side in everything, I guess, if you search hard enough.


Nick L 01.18.12 at 4:51 am

Last week someone made the same argument to me in defence of the claim that scientists should not attempt to wipe out Dengue fever. The mind boggles.


Belle Waring 01.18.12 at 5:32 am

Matt, this sounds like some kind of weaksauce broken-windows fallacy. No dice. I still think this is nothing but good news! Hahaha! My faith has survived 3 whole internet comments! I think I just won’t read the rest of the thread.


a.y. mous 01.18.12 at 5:33 am

You don’t have feel bad. Just afraid. Very afraid. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-16592199


Belle Waring 01.18.12 at 6:26 am

a.y. mous: damn you! nonetheless the lack of polio cases remains good news.


Nick L 01.18.12 at 6:32 am

Yes, broken windows and knee-jerk defence of special interests.

Living in Malaysia, it’s quite surprising the number of blind people with canes one sees. Why? Maternal rubella during pregnancies a couple of decades ago. Mass vaccinations are truly one of the greatest leaps forward in human well being in history and one of the great achievements of the industrial age. It is great that this boon is reaching more of the world than ever.


Belle Waring 01.18.12 at 7:17 am

Hi neighbor! Living in Singapore one feels very keenly the need to vaccinate your children. Because that random dude you walked by just arrived from a village in rural Bangladesh yesterday. None of this I’m scared of side effects stuff. I’m scared of whooping cough! And I wish they had a vaccine for dengue. There’s a huge public health campaign, obviously, and as a house-dweller I have twice gotten tickets for breeding mosquitoes in the dish under a plant pot or the rim of an overturned bucket. The mosquito cops just show up; they come in and check the water in your flowers! It’s a little weird as an American to have to say, “come right in sir;” my natural inclination is to say, “do you have a warrant?” But hey, benevolent technocrats 1, mosquitoes 0.


Basilisc 01.18.12 at 9:06 am

OK, let’s see …

1. This is obviously bad news for Obama. It will make it seem like he cares more about polio victims in India than about what really matters to middle-class Americans, viz. lowering capital gains taxes.

2. With fewer large-scale public health threats worldwide, will we lose the ability to respond to large-scale public health threats?

3. You know who else didn’t have polio? Hitler.

4. It’s well known that vaccinating women and girls against HPV encourages them to have sex. Similarly, vaccinating Indian kids against polio encourages them to walk. The parallels should give one pause.

5. The more successful projects are carried out through focused, effective government efforts, the more likely it is that people will think that government can be focused and effective. Can’t have that!

6. As Matt said, this is terrible news for the crutchmakers. And for the whole fundraising-for-
medical-aid-to-the-third-world industry, though somehow I think they’ll pull through.

7. If some illiterate kid in India can beat polio, that kind of makes FDR look like a wuss, doesn’t it?


Mr.Violet 01.18.12 at 9:41 am

thanks for the good news, at least sometimes we can still enjoy something in this world ;)
I am also in favor of mass vaccinations, but I don’t think their success is an argument for benevolent technocrats.
Technocrats decide by themselves what is good and what is bad for all the others as it was an objective good or bad, they are philosopher autocrats (not only kings :D). In my view simply there isn’t an objective good or bad, but just a subjective good and bad AND an inter-subjective conventional good and bad (note that while distinguishing true from false in an inter-subjective way is equivalent to establish that in an objective way, this doesn’t apply anymore when trying to establish what is good).
Of course the case of health campaigns is almost a case at limit where we can easily assume that nobody wants to get dengue fever and so we don’t need to “poll” if they think it’s good or not to eradicate it. But then the problem surfaces again when we need to enforce the public policies in order to get that good goal (eradicating dengue). Because at that point we need to establish (again inter-subjectively) if the means for achieving the goal are good or bad and if they’re bad we have to decide if they’re less bad then not achieving the goal at all.
That’s very clear with the AIDS: nobody wants it, so having a public agreement that eradicating AIDS is good is obvious,, but then how to do that? Big Pharma says giving medicines for free is bad (for their profit of course!) and Big Brother says using condoms is bad (for Pete’s sake!).
For me both giving medicines and using condoms are good, so for me there’s no problem at all. But I cannot say that my subjective good is an objective one valid for all of us, I count 1 exactly as the Big Pharma CEO or the Pope. This doesn’t mean I have to keep quite, I can campaign for making condoms and medicines easily available, but my campaign cannot be based on any objective claim, I can just try to make as many people as possible sensitive to other people needs, condition and wishes.
So where’s the place for the technician? Well, it’s in helping the public understanding if, given a certain goal, the means are apt to obtain it. But technicians cannot state anything more than that objectively, otherwise they become technocrats and technocrats are making politics as we do and they count 1 as I do.


J. Otto Pohl 01.18.12 at 10:22 am

Given the widespread availability of an effective and safe polio vaccine for decades the fact that it has not followed small pox into complete eradication is a failure as far as I am concerned. I had to get another polio shot before moving to Ghana which is generally more advanced than some places in Asia like Afghanistan or Bangladesh. The technology to eliminate polio is cheap and as I noted above several decades old. Its continued existence is largely the result of a lack of political will power to eliminate it. The fact that there are any cases of polio still in the 21st century is not really good news.


reason 01.18.12 at 10:47 am

Of course it is bad news. Anti-vaxers will have another string to their arguments (i.e. that polio vaxination is useless as the disease has vanished).


Latro 01.18.12 at 11:09 am

They already do that argument. That polio is somehow a “fake” disease invented to sell the vaccines or something.

When I read that the other commenters were asking about the possibilities of having some 80-90 years old guy beating the antivaxers with a cane yelling “MY BROTHER DIED OF POLIO YOU ASSHOLE!”


The Tragically Flip 01.18.12 at 11:43 am

That will make 2 diseases that have been scourges to humankind wiped out by dogooder liberal internationalism aka the UN. We really need to brag more about this. Big government works.


faustusnotes 01.19.12 at 12:26 am

The WHO is predicting eradication may be possible by 2015. Let’s all hope the next stop is HIV.


Seruko 01.19.12 at 12:44 am

reports of new polio cases do not necessarily equal the sum total of total new cases of polio.


StevenAttewell 01.19.12 at 1:53 am

Three cheers for vaccination and the scientific method!


Nick Barnes 01.19.12 at 3:14 am

“Next stop” is guinea worm disease (which may actually be wiped out before polio).


poco 01.19.12 at 3:18 am

WooHoo!! I am with Belle on this news! It was a long slog–with Bollywood and cricket demi-gods coralled to provide Public Service announcements on the tv regularly and technocrats providing the required support. This is Good News, even if it would have been better news a couple of years earlier. Vaccinations in the rural sector were made easier due to a combo of super stars and technocrats. Whats not to cheer??!!


praisegod barebones 01.19.12 at 8:05 am

The technology to eliminate polio is cheap and as I noted above several decades old. Its continued existence is largely the result of a lack of political will power to eliminate it. The fact that there are any cases of polio still in the 21st century is not really good news.

Actually, no. One of the problems with eradicating polio (and one of the things that means that it would be a) fantastic to do so and b) a fairly amazing achievement) is that the best vaccine involves live (but weakened) versions of the virus. Which every so often revert back to type. So you don’t really want to to go around vaccinating people in populations where the disease has been eradicated.

As a result it turns out to be a) important and b) tricky to come up with good mathematical models to tell you when you’ve succeeded in eradicating it. Or so I hear from my sister, whose an eidemiologist, and sent a year doing just that a while back.


bexley 01.19.12 at 10:56 am

@20 I thought you could switch from the live virus vaccine to an inactivated virus vaccine to get around that problem once the number of polio cases drops low enough.


faustusnotes 01.19.12 at 11:31 am

praisegod, I think that aspect of the polio vaccine is exaggerated, and the cost-benefit analysis complex: on the one hand, you could use a more expensive vaccine, but it would almost certainly need to be injected and, even if you could find a delivery mechanism appropriate to the setting, the cost makes the process much harder to justify and support, and thus reduces the number of people who are reached. On the other hand, there is a very low rate of vaccine-related polio in certain settings – and I think this rate is easily reduced by improving sanitation, which is an important public health goal in its own right.


Dr. Hilarius 01.19.12 at 7:49 pm

Good news indeed. Now if only we could convince the anti-vaccine loons here in the United States. I know there was an outbreak in the US as recently as 1993.

And you don’t have to be 80-90 years old to have personal experience with polio. I recall seeing people in iron lungs in the 1960s. A judge of my acquaintance now suffers from “post polio” syndrome from having polio as a child.


Soulless Merchant of Fear 01.19.12 at 9:31 pm

One obvious downside: the hands of many scientists, bureaucrats, and others will be terribly sore for some time from ALL THE HIGH-FIVING THEY’RE DOING IN CELEBRATION.

Tingly, aching palms throughout the Subcontinent: the new horror.

(If they don’t high-five in the Subcontinent, they should start. Because of this achievement. Nothing less will do.)


LFC 01.19.12 at 11:42 pm

What @24 said.
Excellent news.


faustusnotes 01.20.12 at 1:20 am

Dr. Hilarius, my father has post-polio syndrome, and a withered leg because of the disease. It’s a surprisingly nasty later life consequence of the disease, and a real curse for people who finally thought they’d gotten used to the original burden.

Can’t say goodbye to this disease quick enough.


Mise 01.21.12 at 2:19 pm

The much-coveted dengue vaccine … http://www.thesundaily.my/news/268186

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