Virtuoso violinist and polio survivor, Itzhak Perlman, says all children must be vaccinated against the disease, as the WHO warns of possible new outbreaks in conflict zones. Vanessa Johnston reports.
It's a disease that used to leave parents around the world overcome with fear. Would their child get polio, leaving them irreversibly paralyzed within hours? It's something famed violinist Itzhak Perlman knows all too well. He got polio when he was just four-years-old and living in Israel. (SOUNDBITE) (English) VIOLINIST AND POLIO SURVIVOR ITZHAK PERLMAN, SAYING: "First symptoms were weakness in the lower limbs, and then goodbye (laughs), and then couldn't move anymore - at least couldn't walk anymore. That was that. It was kind of like a gradual - it wasn't even gradual - it was pretty sudden. It was - one day I could walk, the next day I couldn't." Even U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt suffered from it -- seen here in rare footage walking at the 1937 World Series. Then came the vaccine. NATS 1956 film: "Randy is the first child to get injected with the Salk polio vaccine...in the field trials in 1954" Today, most countries are polio free. But the World Health Organization is warning of new outbreaks as thousands of people cross borders fleeing conflicts. Dr. Anthony Fauci is head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Maryland. SOUNDBITE) (English) DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF HEALTH'S NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES, DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, SAYING: "There's been spread of cases from Syria to Iraq, from Cameroon to Equatorial Guinea, and from Pakistan to Afghanistan. And when you start to see that cross the border spread, particularly in populations that might not be fully vaccinated, then the WHO considers that a serious situation." Itzhak Perlman, who is part of Rotary International's campaign to end polio, believes the disease must be stamped out completely. (SOUNDBITE) (English) VIOLINIST AND POLIO SURVIVOR, ITZHAK PERLMAN, SAYING: "The problem right now is that even if there are two or three cases of polio in a country, those cases can blow up unless everybody is immunized. And the vaccine is such a simple thing to do." But challenges remain to distributing the vaccine, including war, weak health systems and poor sanitation. In Pakistan, gunmen frequently attack polio vaccination workers, accusing them of being Western spies and part of a plot to sterilize Muslims.