In its ongoing series examining efforts to eradicate polio, NPR’s “All Things Considered” on Thursday examined India’s continuing efforts to stamp out the disease, noting the country “marked a milestone when the World Health Organization struck it from the list of polio-endemic countries in February after no new cases were reported for more than a year.” The news service writes, “During national campaigns, which occur twice a year, two million volunteers fan out to India’s train stations, bus depots, temples, churches and mosques, armed with vials of polio vaccine.” NPR adds, “India has 175 million children aged five and younger, and all of them are tiny targets in this massive national immunization project that, since January 2011, has made India free of a disease that has afflicted it for millennia.” The news service notes the country “must remain polio-free for three years before the WHO will certify that India has eradicated polio” (McCarthy, 10/18).
In its ongoing series examining efforts to eradicate polio, NPR’s “All Things Considered” aired a story on Wednesday looking at how health care workers in Pakistan are attempting to overcome challenges to immunizing the child population. “Last year, the government declared a national emergency, and with the help of international institutions, embarked on an aggressive vaccination campaign,” NPR’s “Shots” blog reports, adding, “So far, the results have been promising. The number of new polio cases is about a third of last year’s total of 198.” The blog continues, “But the new campaign, like previous efforts, hasn’t been able to overcome one critical problem: getting into parts of Pakistan’s lawless tribal regions along the border with Afghanistan to vaccinate the children there” (Northam, 10/17). On NPR’s “Morning Edition” on Thursday, the news service looks at UNICEF’s recruitment of “social mobilizers,” who are working to inoculate 34 million Pakistani children (Northam, 10/18).
In Pakistan, one of only three nations worldwide where polio remains endemic, “rumors and conspiracy theories about the vaccine … have helped the country maintain its unenviable status,” recording 91 cases of the disease in 2011, Agence France-Presse reports. Most cases of the disease this year have been recorded in the Pashtun tribal areas in the northwest of the country, “where education is limited and deeply conservative values hold sway,” the news service writes, adding, “People in the area were already deeply distrustful of foreign intervention, and suspicions soared even further last year after the CIA used a hepatitis inoculation program as cover to try to find Osama bin Laden.” According to AFP, “[f]ighting between government troops and tribal militias in the northwest, as well the Taliban banning inoculations in protest at U.S. drone strikes, have also hampered efforts to fight the disease.” Health care workers are educating the public to build trust, and UNICEF is recruiting religious leaders to advocate for polio vaccination, the news service notes (Abdul, 9/29).
“The world is on the verge of a great success story: the eradication of polio,” John Hewko, CEO and general secretary of Rotary International, and Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and special adviser to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, write in the Huffington Post’s “Global Motherhood” blog. But “[t]here is still ground to cover,” they continue. “Even though the current cases of polio transmission number less than 200 so far this year, the case for finishing the job — getting to zero — is more crucial than ever,” they write, adding, “If polio is fully eradicated, it can’t ever return. On the other hand, if even a few cases persist, and the world lets its guard down, those few cases could become the start of a new epidemic.”
While there is “much to be proud of” in the progress in the fight against polio, “there’s still more work to be done,” former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin writes in a GlobalPost opinion piece. Martin, a polio survivor, notes that in 1988, when the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was launched, 350,000 cases in more than 125 countries were recorded annually, but “[s]o far this year, we’ve seen just 171 cases, and only Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria have never stopped transmission.” He continues, “Canada has been a leader in this fight,” but “[t]he credit for this progress, of course, goes far beyond Canada” to “the work of global partners like the World Health Organization, UNICEF, Rotary International and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; the frontline workers whose tireless efforts make all of this possible; and the countries that are making the political and financial commitments necessary to see the end of this disease.”
“That India is free of wild polio today is a testament to the commitment of the Indian government,” which “invested more than $1 billion over the last decade and collaborated with community leaders, health workers, businesses, and parents,” as well as governments, non-governmental organizations, and multilateral agencies, to fight the disease, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius writes in a Foreign Affairs opinion piece. “The victory over the disease in India has saved millions of lives from disability and death. And although the world must remain vigilant against polio to prevent its resurgence, India’s success will gradually allow the nation to focus resources and experience on [other] diseases and initiatives,” she states.
“A constitutional debate is under way in Nigeria over whether the government can prosecute parents who refuse to have their children vaccinated against polio, or if it has the power to force parents to have their children vaccinated against any communicable disease,” VOA News reports. “The debate comes on the heels of a resolution by the government of Nigeria’s northern Kano state to prosecute any parent who refuses to have their children receive the oral vaccine against the highly contagious disease,” the news service notes.
“The key to India’s success” in going a full year without recording a case of polio “was to take ownership of the problem and the solution, allowing for locals to learn from the expertise of the international community while not becoming dependent” on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and international donors, William Thomson, a research assistant at the U.S. Naval War College, writes in The Diplomat’s “India Decade.”
“India was taken off a list of polio endemic countries by the World Health Organization on Saturday, marking a massive victory for health workers battling the crippling disease” and “leav[ing] just three countries with endemic polio — Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria,” Agence France-Presse reports (2/26). “Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said the WHO removed India from the list after the country passed one year without registering any new cases,” the Associated Press/CBS News writes, adding, “India must pass another two years without new cases to be declared polio-free” (2/27).
Indian Authorities Vaccinate Children Crossing India-Pakistan Border; Distrust Of Polio Vaccines Grows In Pakistan
After going a year without recording a polio case, Indian health officials have begun vaccinating young children who cross the border to or from Pakistan at the Munabao railway station in Rajasthan state, BBC News reports. “The drive was launched after more than 175 cases of polio were reported in Pakistan, officials said,” the news agency writes (2/16).