Polio is on the verge of being eliminated. Last year there were just over 200 cases of polio, and they occurred in just two remote parts of the world — northern Nigeria and the rugged Afghan-Pakistan border region.
A new $5.5 billion plan being pushed by the World Health Organization strives to eliminate polio entirely, phase out vaccination campaigns and secure polio vaccine stockpiles in case the virus somehow manages to re-emerge.
If the effort is successful, polio would be just the second disease in human history, after smallpox, to be eliminated by medical science.
How close are we to the end? How close are we to being among the last humans to ever live? Depending on who you are — your religion, politics, relative degree of pessimism or optimism — that question is bound to bring up images of some particular kind of cataclysm. It could be an all-out nuclear exchange or a climate change-driven mass extinction. But what if there was a way of answering the doomsday question in the most generic way possible.
The Alawites of Syria were a poor, little-known Shiite minority until longtime dictator Hafez Assad, a member of the sect, rose to power in 1970. His son, President Bashar Assad, is now fighting to maintain that power in a country that has risen up against him. Now, even some Syrian Alawites say they are willing to denounce the regime, despite the risks.
A recent gathering in Cairo was much like other conferences hosted by the Syrian opposition — a flurry of activity in the hotel lobby, late-night conversations and lots of cigarettes.