Afghanistan – where war, Taliban, drones and mudslides keep this country of hospitality, amazing people and amazing food on its knees and in its cemeteries. And as if this country has not had enough to contend with, a little girl sits on the floor in her home made of brick and mud suffering from polio.
Sometimes it’s just too much to bear.
Polio was near eradicated. For 25 years the World Health Organization promoted an aggressive world-wide vaccination campaign. The oral polio vaccine is simple – a couple of flavored pink drops at 2 month intervals and then a final booster dose a few years later, 4 doses in all. It doesn’t hurt. It’s safe. And it works.
Here’s a bit about polio*: It loves hot weather, thriving in conditions that kill other viruses. Although it’s primarily in children it can be spread through others, through porous borders, through trade. It lives in the throat and the intestinal tract and is spread person to person. It is spread through oral secretions and through the feces of the infected person, so in places where the sewer systems are inadequate — refugee camps, poor villages, places where many people are living in close quarters without proper bathroom facilities. Already this year, a couple of months before the true hot season has begun there are 68 cases reported worldwide. While that seems miniscule compared to the billions of people in the world, last year at this time the numbers were about a third of this. And of those 68, 54 of them come from Pakistan.
But Syria too is in trouble. Prior to the war (or uprising because uprising perhaps caters to our prim sensibilities, but let’s be honest – it’s a war) the vaccination rate of Syria was high, upwards of 90%. But that has fallen dramatically and the first case of polio in years was reported this past year.
Vaccinations and vaccinators are suspect in Pakistan, the part of the world where most of these cases have emerged. At one time the CIA launched an undercover mission, using vaccination camps as their cover. Since that time any vaccination program is suspect.
So now polio has spread to Afghanistan, and a little girl sits on the floor. The New York Times reports that it is the first confirmed case in the capital of Afghanistan in 12 years.
Sometimes it’s too much to bear.
Too much to try to make sense of all this. I thought yesterday was bad as I was reminded that over 200 Nigerian school girls were kidnapped by an extreme Islamic group and we all finally began to pay attention, signing petitions and using hashtags because we felt so helpless and knew we could do nothing else. And then today I’m reminded of polio and its devastating effects.
What do you do when it’s too much to bear? When you work in a grey cubicle and your heart hurts? When you want to point a finger but you know three will point back at you? What do you do when you try to figure out how you can in one breath be raging about Nigerian girls and in the next be excited about a television show that keeps you captivated for two hours? When you realize your own inadequacy in everything but that which you are directly responsible for – and even then, you often feel inadequate?
What do you do when it’s too much to bear? You put your head down and pray so deeply it hurts. And then you go to work doing what you know you’re called to do for the day, because you are not the Saviour, you are only the saved and that by grace alone.
*For more on polio see the CDC website: http://www.cdc.gov/VACCINes/vpd-vac/polio/default.htm