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VOA Examines Global Polio Eradication Efforts

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.

WHO Says Nigeria Not On Track To Turn Back Polio Despite Having Tools, Capacity

“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.

World Working Together To End Polio

In a post on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists” blog, foundation Co-Chair Bill Gates writes about traveling to New York this week to deliver a speech to the U.N. on polio eradication, one of the top five global health priorities as described by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “New polio cases are the lowest they’ve ever been and there are currently just three countries, down from 125 in 1988, where polio is still endemic: Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan,” Gates notes. He adds, “[T]he world is coming together with the financial resources, the political commitment, and the innovation necessary to do something absolutely extraordinary, to protect every child everywhere from this preventable disease” (9/25).

Muslim Women, Religious Leaders Being Enlisted In Global Campaign To Eradicate Polio

“The last three countries where polio is still paralyzing children — Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria — said on Thursday that they have enlisted Muslim women and religious leaders to allay fears of vaccination and wipe out the disease,” Reuters reports. According to Shahnaz Wazir Ali, a special assistant to Pakistan’s Prime Minister who is in charge of the polio eradication campaign, more than 20 leading Islamic scholars “have signed an endorsement of the polio eradication program, which is being used to persuade Pakistani parents” to allow their children to be vaccinated, the news agency writes. In Nigeria, the Federation of Muslim Women’s Associations is backing a polio immunization campaign there, Reuters notes. “It is not the first time that the world has come tantalizingly close to wiping out the crippling disease,” the news agency writes. “‘We’re so close, there is no time for complacency,’ Dr. Christopher Elias, head of global development at the [Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation], a major donor, told Reuters in Geneva,” Reuters adds (Nebehay, 5/24).

Polio Eradication Must Not Fail

“[P]eople everywhere have a stake in eradicating polio, as we have stamped out smallpox,” a Bloomberg View editorial states, adding, “Immunizing the last unvaccinated children on the planet is an expensive and complex undertaking, and worth it in the long run.” The editorial notes, “If polio transmission could be stopped by 2015, the net benefit from reduced treatment costs and productivity gains through 2035 would be $40 billion to $50 billion, according to a 2010 study.”

Global Polio Eradication Initiative Launches 'Emergency Action Plan'

“A global initiative to rid the world of polio launched an emergency action plan on Thursday because gaps in funding and vaccination coverage threaten to derail a final push towards stamping out the paralyzing disease,” AlertNet reports (Rowling, 5/24). “Despite the dramatic drop in polio cases in the last year, the threat of continued transmission due to funding and immunization gaps has driven the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) to launch an Emergency Action Plan,” a GPEI press release states. “‘Polio eradication is at a tipping point between success and failure,’ said Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization,” the press release states. “We are in emergency mode to tip it towards success — working faster and better, focusing on the areas where children are most vulnerable,” she added, according to the release (5/24).

India On Verge Of Recording Polio-Free Year

If India does not record a new polio case through January 13, “produc[ing] 12 straight months of polio-free surveillance data, it will be removed from the list of countries where polio is considered endemic, leaving only the other three,” Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria, Scientific American reports (Branswell, 1/9). “Asking other countries to draw inspiration from India in their polio eradication drive, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates said the country not reporting a single polio case over the last year is a major milestone in the global health sector,” the Economic Times writes (1/10).

India’s Successful Polio Vaccination Campaign Could Bring First Disease-Free Year

“In India, a mass vaccination campaign involving more than a million volunteers reduced cases nationally by 94 percent between 2009 and 2010, from 741 to 42, and down to the single case last year,” the Guardian reports, adding, “If in India as a whole there are no more confirmed cases before 13 January, the country will have completed its first year without a new victim. And if polio is gone from India, the only countries where the disease is still endemic would be Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

India Applauded For Marking One Year Without Polio, But Urged To Also Focus On Other Diseases

In this post in the Center for Global Development’s (CGD) “Global Health Policy” blog, Victoria Fan, a research fellow at CGD, and Rachel Silverman, a research assistant at the center, respond to India’s marking of one-year since a case of polio was found in the country, writing, “While we applaud India for its commitment to reaching this milestone, let us not allow this recent success obscure the sorry state of vaccination in India.” They provide statistics regarding vaccination coverage in India and conclude, “We wonder whether India’s focus on polio may have come at the expense of other diseases,” and, “[w]hile India should be applauded for its contribution to global eradication, we urge India to consider the trade-offs in focusing on any one disease at the expense of another and, as much as possible, to try to piggy-back one effort to another effort” (1/14).

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