A war that killed millions could soon be over, but an even deadlier conflict is still being fought

This world war has been raging for more than a century. Its casualty rate now runs into the millions. Tens of thousands have died, while many more have been blinded and crippled. But, finally, the day of victory may be at hand.

The enemy is polio, a virus which can kill up to one in three of those who exhibit symptoms and leaves others paralysed or without sight. It has existed for centuries, but it became a scourge in the early years of the last century, spread through poor sanitation in fast-growing urban areas.

This Tuesday is World Polio Day, an anniversary that marks the continuing fight against the disease. Even 30 years ago, polio was endemic in more than 125 countries on almost every continent. At least 300,000 people caught the disease in 1988, although life-saving vaccines have been in use since the 1950s.

This year, just 12 people have been diagnosed with polio, a historic low. The disease exists in only two countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan. With the transmission season almost over, this total is unlikely to rise significantly.

Last year, 37 people caught wild polio, all in those two countries. An outbreak in Syria in 2014 has been contained. Fingers are crossed for Nigeria, polio free for two years until two cases were reported in August 2016, but nothing this year.

If these trends continue, like the disease itself, World Polio Day will very soon become a thing of the past.

The impending victory over polio will be marked next month in Abu Dhabi at Reaching the Last Mile, a landmark forum jointly hosted by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Commander of the Armed Forces, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Carter Centre, founded by former US president, Jimmy Carter.

It will be marked, but there will be no time for celebration.

For while the day approaches when polio will be driven from the world, a far more terrible war still rages. This conflict destroys around 400,000 lives every year. More than nine out of 10 who perish are children. 


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