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Polio Eradication Efforts Threatened By Funding Shortfall, Vaccination Resistance In Some Countries, Experts Say

Marking the 10th anniversary since Europe was declared polio-free, the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative on Wednesday released a report (.pdf) saying there is “a unique window of opportunity to stamp out polio for good,” with the number of reported cases at historical lows, but a funding shortfall of about $1 million is threatening eradication progress, Reuters reports. Polio “remains endemic in three countries — Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria — after India in January became the latest country to become polio-free,” the news agency notes. IMB Chair Liam Donaldson “said the global financial crisis coupled with growing needs for polio funding had led to a shortfall of $945 million out of a total 2012-13 eradication program budget of $2 billion” and that 33 countries would have to cancel their vaccination programs, leaving 94 million children unprotected, according to Reuters (Kelland, 6/20).

Taliban Undermining Efforts To Control Polio In Pakistan

“It seems public health is the latest casualty of Pakistan’s fight against homegrown militants and extremist groups,” Huma Yusuf, a columnist for the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, writes in this post in the New York Times’ “Latitude” blog, highlighting a recent ban on polio immunization campaigns by the Taliban. “After a period of retreat, the polio virus has recently been detected in sewage samples from several Karachi localities,” she notes, writing, “Today, 22,000 children may be at risk in Karachi, and as many as 250,000 in the tribal areas where Bahadur is based.” She continues, “The resurgence of polio in Karachi is especially worrying because the city is an incubator of disease.”

CSIS Report Examines Global Polio Eradication Efforts

The Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) on Monday released a report called “Eradicating Polio in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” According to the report summary, efforts to eradicate the virus globally “have proved largely successful, in part thanks to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), launched by the international community in 1988,” and “[t]he number of new cases has dropped in the past decade, even in countries where the virus has never been eradicated.” The summary adds, “Today, there are only three countries in the world where the polio virus remains endemic: Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan” (8/13).

Bill Gates Reflects On Angola's Success Against Polio

In this post in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists” blog, Bill Gates, co-chair of the foundation, reflects on Angola’s success against polio, writing, “Angola marked a full year without a new case of polio” this month, an accomplishment that serves as “the latest evidence that we are extremely close to ending polio forever.” He continues, “Polio is a formidable foe and Angola is one of the world’s poorest nations with numerous health challenges to tackle, which makes Angola’s achievement especially noteworthy,” adding, “Like all 125 countries that have gotten rid of polio since 1988, Angola’s leaders and citizens also deserve the global resolve needed to ensure that no country ever has to go back and re-do the hard, expensive work that’s already been done to protect their children from polio” (8/27).

Senior Taliban Commander Bans Polio Vaccination Efforts In Southern Region Of Pakistan

“A senior Taliban commander has effectively banned polio eradication in one of the most troubled areas of the Pakistan frontier in an effort to force the U.S. to end drone strikes,” the Guardian reports. “Leaflets distributed in South Waziristan on behalf of Mullah Nazir, the leader of the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies (Fata), accused health workers who administer anti-polio drops of being U.S. spies” and “questioned the sincerity of international efforts to tackle the highly infectious disease,” the newspaper adds.

Pakistan Looks To India For Guidance On Polio Eradication Efforts

“Impressed with India’s successful effort in polio eradication,” a nine-member Pakistani delegation on Thursday met India’s health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and senior officials of the Ministry to discuss the country’s polio eradication program, the Press Trust of India/Business Standard reports, noting that India achieved a polio-free status as of January (5/31). “‘The focus of our visit here was for us to learn firsthand from the government officials and partners exactly what it took for India to become polio free,’ leader of the Pakistan delegation, Shahnaz Wazir Ali, said,” the PTI/Times of India writes (5/31).

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).

World Leaders Unite Behind Global Polio Eradication Efforts At U.N. General Assembly

Political leaders, donor representatives, and medical experts on Thursday met on the sidelines of the 67th U.N. General Assembly session “to celebrate [polio eradication] efforts that have already reduced the incidence of the crippling and potentially fatal disease by 99 percent around the globe,” the U.N. News Centre reports (9/27). “Saying a decisive moment has arrived in the quest to eradicate polio, world leaders vowed … to embrace a new approach that includes long-term funding commitments, greater accountability and a specific focus on the three countries where the crippling disease remains endemic,” the Globe and Mail writes (Picard, 9/27). “[E]verything hinges on stopping polio in a few districts in Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said during an address at the event, the U.N. News Centre adds (9/27). Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, “who is helping spearhead a global campaign to eradicate polio, said Thursday he hopes that by 2015 no child in the world will be paralyzed by the disease and by 2018 polio will be wiped out,” the Associated Press writes (Lederer, 9/27).

Polio Eradication Must Be Achieved Or World Risks Rise In Number Of Cases

In this BMJ Group blogs post, Richard Smith, editor of the BMJ until 2004 and director of the United Health Group’s chronic disease initiative, examines whether efforts to eradicate polio can be successful, writing, “Despite the problems of geography, war, insurgency, politics, communication, finance, and people management, there are optimistic signs, said … Sir Liam Donaldson, former chief medical officer in England and now chair of the International Monitoring Board for the Global Polio Eradication Programme.” He continues, “This is, [Donaldson] concluded, a ‘unique moment in public health’: with one last heave the disease could be eradicated, but if it isn’t financial backing will disappear, health workers will not be paid, systems will break down, and cases of polio will rise back into the tens or hundreds of thousands” (3/22).