“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.”
“Ten years after Europe was declared polio-free, the world stands tantalizingly close to eradicating the disease for good,” but “[t]he world’s chances of achieving this once unthinkable goal of ending polio are being jeopardized by a funding gap of $945 million,” Sir Liam Donaldson, chair of the Independent Monitoring Board of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, writes in this EurActiv.com opinion piece. “This shortfall means vaccination campaigns for 2012 will face cancellations in 33 countries, leaving 94 million children under-immunized,” Donaldson notes, and continues, “This is not just unacceptable: it is also highly damaging and will make our efforts to eradicate polio more expensive and challenging in years to come.”
“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.
“International health experts say the global campaign to eradicate polio has reached a critical stage, with Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria the only countries where the crippling and potentially deadly virus is still prevalent,” VOA News reports. “Health officials in Pakistan say they are redoubling efforts to vaccinate every child against polio after 198 new cases were reported in the country last year, the largest number anywhere in the world,” the news service notes. It goes on to highlight several challenges to the efforts, including “an ongoing insurgency and the influx of millions of Pakistani and Afghan refugees” and public opposition to the vaccinations resulting from misperceptions and concerns about safety (Padden, 6/9).
“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).
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).
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).
In this post in the Global Health Governance blog, Jenilee Guebert, director of research for the global health diplomacy program and G8 research group at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, writes that, “for the second year in a row, the amount of attention devoted to global health” at the annual G8 summit, which took place at Camp David in Maryland in May, has declined. “Global health was not completely absent from the summit,” she continues, highlighting several health initiatives discussed at the meeting, including the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, launched “to accelerate the flow of private capital to African agriculture” with an aim of “lift[ing] 50 million people out of poverty over the next decade.”
“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).