In a series of “News Focus” articles in Science, the magazine examines the global effort to eradicate polio. One article examines the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) — a partnership of the WHO, Rotary International, UNICEF, the CDC, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — and recent reports on the program by an Independent Monitoring Board (IMB), “an oversight body” that provides feedback and guidance. A second and third article look at efforts to vaccinate children against polio in Pakistan, which “is the perfect case study for why it is so hard to eradicate poliovirus from its last few strongholds — and what it might take to pull it off.” The WHO’s Chris Maher “and others attribute the explosion of cases last year to a perfect storm of all the problems that are Pakistan: poverty and illiteracy; a health system in tatters; ethnic and sectarian violence; a government struggling to deal with corruption and dysfunction; huge population movements; and, especially since 9/11, rising extremism and anti-Western views — not to mention the natural attrition that accompanies any program that has dragged on for so long,” according to Science (Roberts, 8/3).
“The global effort to eradicate polio received a SEK 1 million [about $150,000] boost today as Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, dedicated the monetary award she accepted from the TÃ¤llberg Foundation to Rotary International — a humanitarian service organization that has made a polio-free world its top priority,” according to a Gates Foundation press release. “Rotary International has been an invaluable champion for bringing the world more than 99 percent of the way toward a polio-free world, and will continue to be in the final steps to success,” Gates said, according to the press release (8/6).
“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.”
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).
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).
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).
InterAction Sends Letter To CIA Head Protesting Use Of Vaccination Plot To Find Bin Laden In Pakistan
“An alliance of 200 U.S. aid groups has written to the head of the CIA to protest against its use of a doctor to help track Osama bin Laden, linking the agency’s ploy to the polio crisis in Pakistan,” the Guardian reports, noting Pakistan recorded the highest number of polio cases in the world last year. The CIA used a “fake vaccination scheme in the town of Abbottabad … in order to gain entry to the house where it was suspected that the al-Qaida chief was living, and extract DNA samples from his family members,” the newspaper writes. But the plan “provided seeming proof for a widely held belief in Pakistan, fuelled by religious extremists, that polio drops are a western conspiracy to sterilize the population,” according to the Guardian.
Instability and insecurity in some West and Central African nations are threatening the success of a 20-country polio vaccination campaign, which aims to immunize 111.1 million children against the disease, IRIN reports. Ongoing insurgent attacks threaten the campaign in Nigeria, the region’s only polio-endemic country and home to 57.7 million of the children targeted, the news service notes. Parts of Mali, Niger, and Chad also pose security problems for health care workers trying to access children in remote or disputed areas, according to IRIN. “Human error and weak health systems also play an important role in sub-optimal immunization reach,” the news service writes, noting so far, “only Ghana, Cape Verde, Burkina Faso, Gambia, and Togo have achieved the required 90 percent coverage, according to UNICEF” (3/23).
“Eradicating polio and improving the health of millions of children in Pakistan depend quite heavily on assuring that all children have access to life-saving vaccines,” but “[t]he most recent policy prescription from the Pakistani parliament to improve immunization coverage, however, misses the mark, and badly,” Orin Levine, executive director of the International Vaccine Access Center, writes in this Huffington Post “World” blog post. “A draft bill being finalized in the Pakistani parliament would require compulsory vaccination of all children, and would introduce tough penalties — including fines and imprisonment — for parents of unvaccinated children,” Levine says. However, supply issues may prevent some parents from being able to vaccinate children, and the threat of punishment may force some to falsify immunization records, he notes.
“Some 111.1 million children below the age of five are to be vaccinated against polio in a synchronized campaign covering 20 countries in West and Central Africa starting on Friday,” the WHO and UNICEF said in a joint statement on Wednesday, PANA reports (3/21). The campaign, which will last for four days, “is intended to serve as a massive boost in efforts to eradicate the disease, and will involve national health ministries and U.N. agencies, as well as tens of thousands of volunteers who will go from door-to-door immunizing children,” the U.N. News Centre writes (3/21).