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Why Is Polio Spreading in Pakistan?

LEWISVILLE, Texas, March 8, 2007--The World Health Organization has released new figures that show that polio cases are rising in Pakistan.

So is this another instance where, as leftist groups constantly claim, the pharmaceutical industry is denying important vaccines to poor populations?

Um, apparently not. According to London’s Guardian newspaper, “parents of 24,000 children in Northern Pakistan refused to allow health workers to administer polio vaccinations last month [January], mostly due to rumors that the harmless vaccine was an American plot to sterilize innocent Muslim children.”

Yep, you read that right.

“The disinformation,” according to the article, is being “spread by extremist clerics using mosque loudspeakers and illegal radio stations, and by word of mouth.”

The result has been an increase in polio cases among young children.

While this is a very unfortunate situation — and hopefully can be reversed in the near future — it emphasizes an issue often overlooked in the global battle against disease: culture.

Culture plays a strong role in the way a population responds to certain types of technology.

There are reports claiming that many Africans tend to shy away from generic drugs, opting for the brand name versions instead. That choice certainly has to irk some of the leftists who think the only good prescription drug is a generic (or compulsory licensed) drug.

But, unlike the Pakistani situation, such preferences may not be irrational. Africans have been subjected to so many counterfeit drugs over the years that avoiding those claiming to be generic equivalents could be a reasonable safety precaution.

And speaking of irrational, the president of the Republic of Gambia says he has a cure for AIDS, which involves dropping all currently approved AIDS medications. While the W HO is challenging his claims, the president is ignoring those challenges and continues to treat patients, who apparently find the president’s arguments persuasive.

The point is that a number of factors can affect how populations respond to medicines or other technologies. And they often have little or nothing to do with patents, prices and availability of prescription drugs.

Institute for Policy Innovation
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