“The number of polio cases worldwide reached a record low in 2012, giving experts confidence that the disease can finally be eradicated, according to presentations made at” the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) in Atlanta on Tuesday, Agence France-Presse reports (11/13). “The number of polio cases around the world that have been reported this year as of October dropped to 177, down from 502 cases as of October 2011,” and “for the first time ever, no new cases were reported in previously unaffected countries, meaning the geographic spread of polio has slowed,” the Los Angeles Times’ “Booster Shots” blog writes (Bardin, 11/13).
The Washington Post reports on polio eradication efforts in Pakistan, writing, “[O]verall trends in Pakistan, where nearly 30 million children have been vaccinated in recent years, are encouraging.” The newspaper writes, “Last year’s cases numbered 198 nationwide,” adding, “This year’s tally is 54.” However, “the intractability of other social ills, including insurgency, poverty, illiteracy and inadequate sanitation, have conspired to ensure that the country remains years away from meeting its goal of polio eradication by the dawn of 2013,” the newspaper notes. The Washington Post discusses a number of challenges to vaccination efforts, such as a Taliban ban on vaccinations and fear among some parents that “the drops contain religiously proscribed (‘non-halal’) ingredients or are part of a Western plot to spread infertility and limit Muslim population growth.” The newspaper adds, “One key to reducing outbreaks, U.N. health workers say, is to educate parents” (Leiby, 11/16).
GlobalPost’s “Global Pulse” blog interviews Ellyn Ogden, USAID’s worldwide polio eradication coordinator since 1997, about India’s progress in eradicating polio as it marked one year without a confirmed case and discusses what the overall eradication fight looks like today. Ogden said she believes global eradication of polio is possible, adding, “We pretty much owe it to India to give this effort some time. They worked so hard to get 172 million kids vaccinated. There are always skeptics. But it doesn’t get much more difficult than in India. If they can do it here, we should be able to do it anyplace with the tools and strategies we have” (Donnelly, 1/17).
“After more than a century as a global scourge and hundreds of thousands lives lost, polio may now be on the verge of being the second human disease wiped off the face of the Earth,” Charles Kenny, senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, writes in his column for ForeignPolicy.com, “The Optimist,” and asks whether it is worth it to spend billions of dollars to wipe out the few remaining cases of the disease. Kenny discusses the cost-effectiveness of eradication efforts and writes, “In part because of the considerably greater complexity of the vaccination program, the cost of the polio eradication program is mounting.”
The New York Times examines how after years of decline, the number of recorded polio cases in Afghanistan tripled in 2011 to 76, following only 25 cases in 2010, raising concerns among international health experts that polio is seeing a resurgence, “particularly since some of the cases erupted far outside the disease’s traditional areas in Afghanistan.”
T. Jacob John, a former professor of clinical virology an the Christian Medical College in Vellore, India, who has served on several Global and National Committees on Immunization and Polio Eradication, writes in this opinion piece in India’s Hindu, “While one year has passed without polio caused by natural poliovirus, we can claim complete eradication only after we ensure the absence of wild and vaccine polioviruses in the population.” He provides a brief history of polio eradication efforts, globally and in India, and continues, “For certification of eradication, two more years should pass without any case of wild virus polio. … We must continue working as if we still have poliovirus lurking somewhere, only to show up when least expected” (1/8).
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius “administered polio vaccination drops to children in New Delhi on Friday as India marked one year since its last case of the crippling disease,” the Associated Press reports (1/13). The Hill’s “Healthwatch” reports that “[o]fficials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] say U.S. funding and experience were key to beating back the disease,” but “[t]he news comes as federal funding for global health programs now faces sharp cuts from Tea Party lawmakers and others worried about the deficit” (Pecquet, 1/12). “ÂGlobally, the U.S. government has provided $2 billion for the polio eradication campaign, Rotary International has raised about $1 billion from its members, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has donated more than $1 billion,” and the CDC “weighed in with crucial expertise,” the Washington Post writes (Denyer, 1/12).
“Nigeria’s 36 Executive Governors and the Federal Capital Territory have signed up to the Nigeria Immunization Challenge launched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation last year,” a Gates Foundation press release states. “The Nigeria Immunization Challenge sets specific objectives that need to be met during each quarter of 2012. If met, Nigeria will significantly improve its chances of stopping polio and protecting more children against vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and whooping cough,” the release adds, noting, “As of December 30, 2011, 51 cases of wild poliovirus had been reported in eight Nigerian states” (1/5).
Gates Urges Governments, Wealthy Donors Not To Cut Aid To Poor Countries; Annual Letter Sets Foundation’s Priorities
In a speech to the European Parliament on Tuesday, Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, “told European lawmakers in Brussels not to cut aid to poor countries despite the economic and budgetary problems facing” European Union (E.U.) countries, Agence France-Presse reports. Gates “praised the [E.U.] whose support in health and development he said has been greater than that of the United States,” AFP notes (1/24). On Wednesday, Gates “will be at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, where he plans to exhort wealthy donors — especially governments — to keep funding a range of crucial projects in the developing world, from tuberculosis drugs and antimalaria bed nets to maternal care and vaccines,” the Wall Street Journal writes. Gates “plans to make his case by showcasing ideas, backed by his foundation, that have helped cost-effectively tackle problems in global health,” according to the newspaper (Naik, 1/25).
In this editorial in the International Herald Tribune’s “Express Tribune,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon examines the global push to eradicate polio, highlighting progress in the “world’s war on polio” since it was declared nearly a quarter century ago but warning that “we are in danger of falling victim to our own success,” as “the world is now populated by a generation which has either never been exposed to polio or has been inadequately vaccinated.” However, “[w]ith a determined push, the international community can wipe out polio once and for all,” Ban continues, adding, “To do so, … it must organize and commit the required financial resources.” Ban highlights two upcoming meetings — the G8 summit at Camp David this week, and a meeting of World Health Assembly in Geneva the following week — as opportunities for world leaders to push for polio eradication on the international agenda.