A low-profile miracle

Copyright 1998 Seattle Times
September 11, 1998

Diarrhea. Authors don't write prize-winning books about it. Celebrities don't hold Planet Hollywood galas to memorialize its victims. School children don't hold bake sales to help pay for better sewer systems in underdeveloped nations. There is no World Diarrhea Day. Yet an estimated 1 million children around the world die of the disease every year. And in the U.S. - here in this wealthy, industrialized nation - some 55,000 kids are hospitalized annually by the virus.

Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration approved a miracle vaccine that cuts cases of viral childhood diarrhea in half. It's the world's first diarrhea-fighting medicine; manufacturer Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories promises to distribute the vaccine to kids in developing countries. This is an astounding public-health development that warrants more fanfare than it is getting. Respected environmental journalist Gregg Easterbrook has noted "many more people die each year from filthy air and dirty water than from asbestos, dioxin, electromagnetic radiation, nuclear wastes, PCBs, pesticide residues and ultraviolet rays - the sorts of ecological issues that obsess Western environmentalists."

While environmental worrywarts fret about the cause du jour, millions of children are succumbing to a disease today for which there now exists an effective vaccine.

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