In its ongoing series examining efforts to eradicate polio, NPR’s “All Things Considered” on Thursday examined India’s continuing efforts to stamp out the disease, noting the country “marked a milestone when the World Health Organization struck it from the list of polio-endemic countries in February after no new cases were reported for more than a year.” The news service writes, “During national campaigns, which occur twice a year, two million volunteers fan out to India’s train stations, bus depots, temples, churches and mosques, armed with vials of polio vaccine.” NPR adds, “India has 175 million children aged five and younger, and all of them are tiny targets in this massive national immunization project that, since January 2011, has made India free of a disease that has afflicted it for millennia.” The news service notes the country “must remain polio-free for three years before the WHO will certify that India has eradicated polio” (McCarthy, 10/18).
In its ongoing series examining efforts to eradicate polio, NPR health editor Joe Neel and Jason Beaubien, a global health and development correspondent for the news service, on Thursday spoke with “Talk of the Nation” host Neil Conan about obstacles to stamping out polio in the three countries where the disease persists — Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria. According to the transcript, they discuss how “[o]bstacles in each country, including religious extremism, difficult terrain and transient populations, make eradication efforts difficult” (10/25).
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).
In Pakistan, one of only three nations worldwide where polio remains endemic, “rumors and conspiracy theories about the vaccine … have helped the country maintain its unenviable status,” recording 91 cases of the disease in 2011, Agence France-Presse reports. Most cases of the disease this year have been recorded in the Pashtun tribal areas in the northwest of the country, “where education is limited and deeply conservative values hold sway,” the news service writes, adding, “People in the area were already deeply distrustful of foreign intervention, and suspicions soared even further last year after the CIA used a hepatitis inoculation program as cover to try to find Osama bin Laden.” According to AFP, “[f]ighting between government troops and tribal militias in the northwest, as well the Taliban banning inoculations in protest at U.S. drone strikes, have also hampered efforts to fight the disease.” Health care workers are educating the public to build trust, and UNICEF is recruiting religious leaders to advocate for polio vaccination, the news service notes (Abdul, 9/29).
“The world is on the verge of a great success story: the eradication of polio,” John Hewko, CEO and general secretary of Rotary International, and Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and special adviser to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, write in the Huffington Post’s “Global Motherhood” blog. But “[t]here is still ground to cover,” they continue. “Even though the current cases of polio transmission number less than 200 so far this year, the case for finishing the job — getting to zero — is more crucial than ever,” they write, adding, “If polio is fully eradicated, it can’t ever return. On the other hand, if even a few cases persist, and the world lets its guard down, those few cases could become the start of a new epidemic.”
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.”
UNICEF has released its 2012 partnership profiles, “short case studies which highlight specific partnership initiatives at global, regional and country levels” and “illustrate how partnerships have contributed to results, either the creation of innovation, policy advocacy, evidence generation, or provision of essential services,” according to UNICEF’s Partnerships webpage. Some of the organizations highlighted include the GAVI Alliance (.pdf), the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (.pdf), and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (.pdf) (9/17).
VOA News reports on global efforts to eradicate polio, writing, “Experts say with India now polio-free and the total number of cases at the lowest level ever, this is an opportunity to change history and eradicate the disease entirely.” “The oral polio vaccine has cut the number of polio cases worldwide by 99 percent since 1988,” but, “[f]or the past 10 years, … eliminating that last percent has remained a challenge,” the news service continues. “The three countries where polio is still endemic — Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan — are conducting aggressive immunization campaigns to vaccinate more children against the disease,” VOA notes.
“The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday said Nigeria was not on track in the effort to eradicate wild polio virus before the end of December this year,” Leadership/AllAfrica.com reports. Speaking at the 24th Expert Review Committee (ERC) Meeting on Polio Eradication in Abuja, Bruce Aylward, WHO assistant director-general for polio, emergencies and country collaboration, said Nigeria had the tools and capacity to turn back the increasing number of polio cases that pose a “real and growing danger to international public health,” the news service notes. Aylward “recommended eight major steps for polio eradication for the country, including the implementation of the new house-based micro planning and monitoring method,” refresher training for all personnel to emphasize the emergency status declared by the WHO, and the identification and immunization of missed children and those in insecure areas, among others, according to the news service. ERC Chair Tomori Oyewale “called on Nigerians to change their attitude to polio eradication to ensure the success of the fight against the virus,” the news service writes (9/11).
Pakistan Official Says Progress Made In Vaccinating Thousands Of Children Against Polio In Tribal Area
“Pakistan Tuesday claimed progress in vaccinating thousands of children against polio in a tribal area bordering Afghanistan which had been inaccessible due to unrest for about three years,” Agence France-Presse reports. “‘Our target was to vaccinate up to 25,000 children in Bara and some 32,000 children in Tirah valley in Khyber and 70 percent success has been achieved,’ top social welfare officer for tribal areas Aftab Durrani told AFP,” the news service writes.