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World Polio Day: Post Polio Syndrome is here to stay

Every year, on October 28, a disease seemingly irrelevant and long forgotten in our part of the world is moving into the public focus: Poliomyelitis or polio; a dangerous, highly contagious viral infection that has claimed victims numbering in the tens of thousands in the not-too-distant past. For a sizeable fraction of these, the infection proved fatal. And the disease rages on.

On this day of commemoration, a host of campaigns and fund-raising activities are being launched to battle the dangerous virus still rampant predominantly in the developing world. Despite the rapidly declining number of recent polio infections due to the WHO's worldwide eradication program, the virus is anything but extinct.

"We do welcome any effort to aggressively tackle polio, so no human being in this world has to bear the heavy burden we're carrying", says Karola Rengis, chairwoman of POLIO Selbsthilfe e.V., the Federal POLIO Self-Help Association, on the occasion of World Polio Day in Germany. "Protection is so easy compared to the manifold consequences of polio infection."

A Disappearing Disease – Forgotten Victims

In Germany's widespread public opinion polio ceased to exist. Consequently, polio survivors, who often have to battle with the long-term consequences referred to as Post Polio Syndrome (PPS) – a largely unfamiliar diagnosis –, face near-complete public disregard in this country and around the world. According to reliable statistics, there are about 100,000 people suffering from Post Polio Syndrome in Germany by now. And the long-term trend is highly unfavorable: in the coming years, this number could rise up to 1.5 million. The health care sector is not at all prepared for this kind of challenge.

"As pleasing as the decline in recent infections might have been, awareness of the disease and its consequences has also faded", concludes Dr. Peter Brauer, member of the Medical Advisory Board of POLIO Selbsthilfe e.V.. He regards the level of knowledge among physicians especially about Post Polio Syndrome, a particularly difficult diagnosis, as "abysmal".

Disastrous Lack Of Knowledge – A Demographic Time Bomb

"What we need so urgently are more and especially more committed physicians willing to devote their attention to Post Polio Syndrome, either during their education or in advanced training programs", Karola Rengis stresses, appealing to health care politicians: "Facing a rising life expectancy and the continuing explosion of costs in the health care sector, the frequent cases of misdiagnosis or medical malpractice found among Post Polio Syndrome patients are simply counterproductive".

Medical marathons, often measuring in years, to physicians of highly diverse specialization are the rule, rather than the exception, until PPS sufferers discover the real reason behind their affliction, according to the Federal Chairwoman of POLIO Selbsthilfe e.V..

"All too often, our suffering is being belittled and we're just sent back home. That's unbearable", Rengis says. "I'm appealing to anybody in charge of public health in Germany to take action not to let the hundreds of thousands of humans facing a risk of developing Post Polio Syndrome just fall by the wayside."