NPR’s “Shots” blog reports on efforts to eradicate polio in Nigeria. “[N]orthern Nigeria is the only place in the world where polio cases are increasing,” the blog writes, noting, “As of Sept. 1, it had recorded 90 polio cases in 2012 — or nearly three times as many as in the same period last year.” The blog highlights the city of Kano in northern Nigeria, which “has been called the ‘epicenter’ of the current polio outbreak,” and where “remnants of the paralyzing disease are visible even on its streets.” “Vaccination campaigns are regular fixtures here,” the blog writes, adding, “In the past few years, religious leaders in this region have gone from opposing vaccination to requiring it.”
Though “conflict and insecurity problems in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria have presented challenges to polio immunization, … these are surmountable obstacles,” Siddharth Chatterjee, chief diplomat and head of strategic partnerships and international relations at the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, writes in the International Peace Institute’s Global Observatory. “Millions of children have received polio vaccines in countries ravaged by conflict and poverty, thanks to determined action by national governments and the work of courageous health workers from UNICEF, WHO, Red Cross-Red Crescent National Societies, and [non-governmental organizations],” he notes. In addition to providing political will and humanitarian solidarity, “[w]e must ensure the effort is fully funded; not just year-by-year, but for the long term,” he writes, concluding, “We have the opportunity to ensure success, and we must not fail to deliver a legacy of a polio-free world” (10/16).
NPR’s “Shots” blog on Monday began a series of stories “reporting on the fight to eradicate the last few pockets of polio,” which begins “with a look back at how the U.S. and the rest of the world wiped out the virus for good.” The article examines the history of poliovirus in the U.S., how the disease became a national focus through the efforts of Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, and the development of vaccines by Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin. Thanks to the success of the vaccines, both of which are still in use today, the WHO set a goal to eliminate polio in 1988, and the last case recorded in the Western hemisphere was in Peru in 1991, the blog reports, noting fewer than 200 cases of polio have been recorded worldwide so far this year (Beaubien, 10/15).
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Al Ansari Exchange, “a major foreign exchange and remittance company in the [United Arab Emirates], have committed $10 million over the next five years to tackle” polio and neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), Devex reports (Ravelo, 10/10). “The agreement, which was jointly signed in Abu Dhabi by Bill Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation, and Mohammed Ali Al Ansari, chairman of the board of Al Ansari Exchange, will kick off with an initial co-funded contribution of $4 million to support polio eradication activities in Pakistan and Afghanistan and the prevention and treatment of NTDs in sub-Saharan Africa,” an Al Ansari Exchange press release notes (10/9). In his blog, “The Gates Notes,” Gates provides a transcript of his speech at the 2012 Abu Dhabi Media Summit, where the agreement was signed (10/9).
Writing in the Global Bioethics Blog, Stuart Rennie, a bioethics researcher and professor, notes another polio worker was killed in Pakistan last week and describes Taliban opposition to U.S.-supported polio vaccination efforts in Pakistan. “For its part, the Taliban argues that U.S. efforts to eradicate polio in Pakistan contradict U.S. efforts to combat terrorism in the region, more specifically its campaign of drone strikes,” he states, adding, “As Taliban officials argue, many more Pakistanis — including women and children not involved in terrorist activity — have died or been injured (psychologically and otherwise) from drone strikes than have died or are likely to die from polio.” He continues, “When you can see the point in a Taliban ethical argument, the world is a dark place.” Rennie concludes, “The eradication of polio is of global interest: it is important that it joins smallpox in the tiny category of eliminated infectious diseases, while we still have the chance” (10/21).
“Over 70,000 health workers and community volunteers were combing the streets and jungle paths in Sierra Leone Friday at the start of a vaccination program targeting young children in the West African country,” Agence France-Presse reports. “The four-day vaccination drive dubbed ‘Kick polio out of Sierra Leone’ is focusing on some 1.3 million children under the age of five,” the news service writes, adding, “The health ministry’s program manager, Dr. Thomas Samba, who is coordinating the initiative told AFP: ‘The vaccination exercise in Sierra Leone is being undertaken simultaneously with eight other ECOWAS states — Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Niger, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Mali'” (10/20).
The following opinion pieces were published on Wednesday in recognition of World Polio Day, observed annually on October 24.
UNICEF Calls For 'Finishing' Global Polio Eradication; Rotary International Warns Of Funding Shortfall In India
UNICEF on Wednesday “called for continued dedication in ‘finishing the job’ in eradicating polio, while also applauding India for being ‘declared polio free’ for the first time in history,” Xinhua reports. “UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said in a statement released â€¦ on World Polio Day, which falls on Oct. 24, that ‘fewer children than ever before suffer the debilitating effects of this cruel disease,'” the news service writes (10/24). “Lake added that the world must concentrate its efforts in reaching children that are most at risk: children with disabilities, living in extreme poverty and in conflict zones in remote areas,” the U.N. News Centre writes (10/24).
Polio Vaccination Campaign In Darfur Shows Immunizations Possible In 'Emergency And Conflict Settings'
In an Inter Press Service opinion piece, Siddharth Chatterjee, chief diplomat and head of strategic partnerships at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and Sam Agbo, an independent public health adviser in the U.K., write about the unstable situation in Darfur, Sudan, in 2004, and how “UNICEF and WHO in Sudan along with important NGO partners started planning with local authorities on how best to immunize all children in Darfur.” They outline the major challenges, including staff safety, and discuss how multi-agency teams were able to vaccinate 10,000 children in two immunization rounds. Chatterjee and Agbo add, “The polio immunization campaign was the driver for a wider process of improving and ramping up assistance to communities and this made the campaign attractive to mothers to bring their children to the immunization hubs that were established.”
October 24 “is World Polio Day, a day to celebrate the remarkable progress we’ve made in the fight against polio and to focus on the urgency of the work we still have to do,” Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, writes in “The Gates Notes” blog. “But equally important, it’s also a day to say ‘thank you’ to the millions of people around the world who have generously given their time and money to this critical effort,” he continues, and features a video thanking the different organizations working together to bring an end to polio. “To ensure success, we need to fully fund polio campaigns and routine immunizations”; “continued leadership and accountability”; and “ensure the security of vaccination teams so they can get to children — even in the most difficult areas,” Gates writes (10/24). In a post on the Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists” blog, Jay Wenger, head of the polio program at the foundation, lists five reasons why he’s “excited” about World Polio Day. “It’s really because I have seen an unprecedented series of successes, commitment from existing and new donors and signs of progress that give me confidence we can finish the job,” he writes (10/23).