In its ongoing series examining efforts to eradicate polio, NPR’s “All Things Considered” aired a story on Wednesday looking at how health care workers in Pakistan are attempting to overcome challenges to immunizing the child population. “Last year, the government declared a national emergency, and with the help of international institutions, embarked on an aggressive vaccination campaign,” NPR’s “Shots” blog reports, adding, “So far, the results have been promising. The number of new polio cases is about a third of last year’s total of 198.” The blog continues, “But the new campaign, like previous efforts, hasn’t been able to overcome one critical problem: getting into parts of Pakistan’s lawless tribal regions along the border with Afghanistan to vaccinate the children there” (Northam, 10/17). On NPR’s “Morning Edition” on Thursday, the news service looks at UNICEF’s recruitment of “social mobilizers,” who are working to inoculate 34 million Pakistani children (Northam, 10/18).
Maternal, Newborn and Child Health
In an opinion piece in the Huffington Post’s “Global Motherhood” blog, David Olson, a global health communications consultant who worked as a communications adviser to the Reproductive Health and Rights Alliance in Kenya earlier this year, describes how “abortion rights [in the country] have been liberalized in certain cases in a Constitution approved in a public referendum two years ago.” He continues, “The new constitution says clearly that ‘the life of a person begins at conception’ and ‘abortion is not permitted unless…'” Olson writes, “And that innocuous ‘unless’ is what keeps the abortion issue alive in Kenya, almost two years after the constitutional referendum: ‘…unless, in the opinion of a trained health professional, there is need for emergency treatment, or the life or health of the mother is in danger, or if permitted by any other written law.'”
“Uruguay’s Congress voted narrowly on Wednesday to legalize abortions during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, a rare move in largely Catholic Latin America that underscores the country’s liberal leanings,” Reuters reports. “President Jose Mujica, a former leftist guerrilla fighter, has said he would sign the bill into law,” the news service notes (Castaldi, 10/17). “[T]he bill approved by Uruguay’s Senate came after a pointed debate among legislators, producing a compromise that disappointed both abortion-rights groups and opponents, who have vowed to carry out a referendum to overturn the legislation,” the New York Times writes, adding, “Legislators carefully worded the bill, describing it not as legalization of abortion but as a decriminalization measure.” The newspaper writes, “The bill effectively legalizes abortion in the first trimester, permits abortion through 14 weeks of pregnancy in cases of rape and allows later-term abortions when a woman’s health is at risk” (Romero et al., 10/17).
Aissata Sall Yade, a communications assistant for the Senegal Urban Reproductive Health Initiative, part of IntraHealth International, writes in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists” blog about Aissatou Dia Fall, a head midwife at Senegal’s Gallo Dia Health Center in Yeumbeul, and her efforts to improve access to health care for women in the community. She has reached out to different organizations for monetary assistance for her clients, Yade notes, adding, “Strategies like Aissatou Dia Fall’s will help improve Senegal’s national contraceptive prevalence rate, which is currently only 12 percent. It will also help reduce one of the world’s highest maternal mortality rates (410 deaths per 100,000 live births) and reduce the fertility rate (an average of five children per woman)” (10/17).
“While reports from the United Nations as well as the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) indicate that maternal deaths are declining around the world, far too many women continue to die from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth,” Ana Langer, director of the Women and Health Initiative at the Harvard School of Public Health, writes in the Huffington Post’s “Global Motherhood” blog. “In fact, every 90 seconds a young woman dies unnecessarily when she is giving life,” she continues, noting, “More than 90 percent of these deaths could be avoided, if all women had timely access to good quality care.”
“I’m encouraged by the focus on children’s health alongside other pressing global issues” at the U.N. General Assembly meeting last week, Dagfinn Hoybraten, vice president of the Norwegian Parliament and chair of the GAVI Alliance Board, writes in the Huffington Post’s “Impact” blog, adding, “These discussions come in the wake of UNICEF’s latest report on declines in child mortality around the world.” He provides some statistics from the report and notes, “In June, the governments of the United States, India, and Ethiopia, along with UNICEF, launched a renewed global commitment to child survival at a meeting in Washington.”
In the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists” blog, Leslie Elder, a senior nutrition specialist at the World Bank, and Yurie Tanimichi Hoberg, a senior economist at the World Bank, write about the intersection of policies and programs in nutrition and agriculture, saying they “are not always closely coordinated.” They continue, “Without the explicit consideration of nutrition objectives and indicators from the outset, investments in agriculture are less likely to achieve nutrition impact,” and describe how the SecureNutrition Knowledge Platform aims “to address critical operational knowledge gaps regarding how to improve the nutrition of vulnerable populations using nutrition sensitive investments in agriculture, and how to measure the impacts of agriculture and food security interventions on nutrition.” They note “SecureNutrition is a community of members from the nutrition, agriculture and food security metrics communities, working with 14 partner organizations, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, GAIN, Save the Children, USAID and the [World Food Programme]” (9/28).
“The implementation of an ambitious bill that guarantees cheap food grains for India’s poor could be pushed back to the next fiscal year, a top government adviser said,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “[I]mplementing the bill in the fiscal year starting April 2013 would make financial and political sense for the government, which is facing a yawning budget gap and federal elections before May 2014,” according to the newspaper, which adds the bill is “likely to be introduced in the budget session, which is due late February, C. Rangarajan, chairman of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council, said in an interview.” After a general debate, parliament would have to approve the bill, which “aims to provide subsidized grains to more than 60 percent of India’s 1.2 billion people, with special provisions for pregnant women, destitute children and others,” for it to become law, the newspaper writes, adding, “A government spokesman declined to comment on the matter Friday” (Sahu/Guha, 10/27).
While there is “much to be proud of” in the progress in the fight against polio, “there’s still more work to be done,” former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin writes in a GlobalPost opinion piece. Martin, a polio survivor, notes that in 1988, when the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was launched, 350,000 cases in more than 125 countries were recorded annually, but “[s]o far this year, we’ve seen just 171 cases, and only Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria have never stopped transmission.” He continues, “Canada has been a leader in this fight,” but “[t]he credit for this progress, of course, goes far beyond Canada” to “the work of global partners like the World Health Organization, UNICEF, Rotary International and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; the frontline workers whose tireless efforts make all of this possible; and the countries that are making the political and financial commitments necessary to see the end of this disease.”
Agence France-Presse reports on how poverty and hunger are forcing families in the rural village of Hawkantaki, Niger, to marry their daughters at increasingly younger ages, writing, “A girl married off is one less mouth to feed, and the dowry money she brings in goes to feed others.” The news agency notes “one out of every three girls in Niger marries before her 15th birthday, a rate of child marriage among the highest in the world, according to a UNICEF survey.” According to AFP, “Most of the marriages should be illegal under Niger’s law, which states that the minimum age of marriage is 15,” but the law “only applies for civil ceremonies officiated by the state. Marriages in villages are sealed inside mosques and fall under what is called ‘traditional law'” (Callimachi, 9/16).