A reader named Ed Woodcock writes to tell us of …
[A] conversation I had with a WHO (World Health Org.) official I bumped into while touring the Taj Mahal for the first time about 5 or 6 years ago. We introduced ourselves and she told me that she was a “polio advocate,” which obviously led to the question, “What the heck does that mean?” She basically spent her time lobbying organizations for donations to help eradicate polio. Obviously a very worthy cause!
Me: naively asked … “Does India have a lot of polio?”
Her: “It has 90% of the world’s active cases! In fact, the Indian state we’re in (where the Taj Mahal is located) has over 90% of India’s cases. It’s quite tragic. We’ve found that we are funneling so much money to this state to try to eradicate polio that we’ve found it has become a disincentive to fighting it. The state government realizes that as soon as polio is eradicated, the money will try up. Thus they make a half-hearted effort to fight it.”
This might just be the most tragic example of unintended consequences.
There’s no way of knowing if the WHO official was speaking accurately (or if she even was a WHO official), but it’s certainly true that the WHO has been fighting polio in India, and that there seems to be significant progress of late. An earlier article blames the situation on Islamic fundamentalists in India.
We had a section about polio in SuperFreakonomics; in the Illustrated Edition, we showed that, because polio was such a frightening disease which often struck children, it attracted a lot of fund-raising dollars per victim compared to other illnesses: