In a post on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists” blog, foundation Co-Chair Bill Gates writes about traveling to New York this week to deliver a speech to the U.N. on polio eradication, one of the top five global health priorities as described by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “New polio cases are the lowest they’ve ever been and there are currently just three countries, down from 125 in 1988, where polio is still endemic: Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan,” Gates notes. He adds, “[T]he world is coming together with the financial resources, the political commitment, and the innovation necessary to do something absolutely extraordinary, to protect every child everywhere from this preventable disease” (9/25).
Political leaders, donor representatives, and medical experts on Thursday met on the sidelines of the 67th U.N. General Assembly session “to celebrate [polio eradication] efforts that have already reduced the incidence of the crippling and potentially fatal disease by 99 percent around the globe,” the U.N. News Centre reports (9/27). “Saying a decisive moment has arrived in the quest to eradicate polio, world leaders vowed … to embrace a new approach that includes long-term funding commitments, greater accountability and a specific focus on the three countries where the crippling disease remains endemic,” the Globe and Mail writes (Picard, 9/27). “[E]verything hinges on stopping polio in a few districts in Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said during an address at the event, the U.N. News Centre adds (9/27). Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, “who is helping spearhead a global campaign to eradicate polio, said Thursday he hopes that by 2015 no child in the world will be paralyzed by the disease and by 2018 polio will be wiped out,” the Associated Press writes (Lederer, 9/27).
“Mobile health teams in Bangladesh are conducting ‘child-to-child’ searches to reach the remaining half million children not vaccinated during a nationwide polio immunization campaign launched on 7 January,” IRIN reports. With a goal of vaccinating 22 million children, health workers are heading into hard-to-reach and high-risk areas to vaccinate the remaining 560,791 children, the news service writes. “Since a polio outbreak in 2006 of an imported viral strain, the government has not reported any infections, pledging annual polio vaccinations until [neighboring] India is declared polio-free,” IRIN notes, adding the next round of polio vaccinations in Bangladesh is scheduled for February 11 (1/11).
India Marking Health Achievement In Polio-Free Year But Cautious Optimism Remains Among Some Experts
“On Friday, India marks a huge public health milestone — a year since a case of polio was found in the country — a critical step in being declared polio-free and an achievement that many experts long argued was impossible,” the Globe and Mail reports (Nolen, 1/11). “The achievement gives a major morale boost to health advocates and donors who had begun to lose hope of ever defeating the stubborn disease that the world had promised to eradicate by 2000,” the Associated Press/Seattle Post-Intelligencer writes (Nessman, 1/12).
In part one of a two-part blog post in USAID’s “IMPACTblog,” USAID Worldwide Polio Eradication Coordinator Ellyn Ogden reports on the “hard work and dedication of the Indian government at the national, state, district, block and panchaiyat levels” that was required for the country to have a year free of polio. “Over two million health workers, mobilizers, and volunteers have contributed to this success and deserve to be seen as heroes in their communities,” she writes (1/20). In part two of the post, Ogden recaps polio vaccination efforts and challenges, discusses the last recorded case of polio, and writes that going forward, “Guarded optimism prevails” as the country “is still at risk of importations from countries that have not yet stopped polio transmission” (1/23).
If India does not record a new polio case through January 13, “produc[ing] 12 straight months of polio-free surveillance data, it will be removed from the list of countries where polio is considered endemic, leaving only the other three,” Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria, Scientific American reports (Branswell, 1/9). “Asking other countries to draw inspiration from India in their polio eradication drive, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates said the country not reporting a single polio case over the last year is a major milestone in the global health sector,” the Economic Times writes (1/10).
“In India, a mass vaccination campaign involving more than a million volunteers reduced cases nationally by 94 percent between 2009 and 2010, from 741 to 42, and down to the single case last year,” the Guardian reports, adding, “If in India as a whole there are no more confirmed cases before 13 January, the country will have completed its first year without a new victim. And if polio is gone from India, the only countries where the disease is still endemic would be Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
In this post in the Center for Global Development’s (CGD) “Global Health Policy” blog, Victoria Fan, a research fellow at CGD, and Rachel Silverman, a research assistant at the center, respond to India’s marking of one-year since a case of polio was found in the country, writing, “While we applaud India for its commitment to reaching this milestone, let us not allow this recent success obscure the sorry state of vaccination in India.” They provide statistics regarding vaccination coverage in India and conclude, “We wonder whether India’s focus on polio may have come at the expense of other diseases,” and, “[w]hile India should be applauded for its contribution to global eradication, we urge India to consider the trade-offs in focusing on any one disease at the expense of another and, as much as possible, to try to piggy-back one effort to another effort” (1/14).
Afghan President Karzai Urges Taliban To Allow Polio Vaccination Teams Into Insurgent-Controlled Areas
Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday “urg[ed] the Taliban to allow teams conducting a polio vaccination campaign access to areas under their control” and “said that whoever hampers the medical workers ‘is the enemy of our children’s future,'” the Associated Press/Washington Post reports (1/17). “A total of 80 cases of the crippling disease were reported in Afghanistan last year — a three-fold increase over 2010, the health ministry said on Tuesday, marking a major setback in the drive to eradicate polio worldwide,” Agence France-Presse writes, adding that “Karzai appealed to religious and community leaders to persuade the insurgents to allow the immunization teams to vaccinate children” (1/17).
IRIN examines several factors that could be contributing to an increase in polio cases in Pakistan, “despite the launch of a National Emergency Action Plan for Polio Eradication” at the beginning of 2011. In 2010, Pakistan recorded 144 cases of polio and 192 cases in 2011, the news service reports. According to IRIN, refusals by some households to vaccinate children; “administrative laxity” and “poorly run campaigns”; and malnutrition, vitamin deficiencies, and diarrhea among children could be contributing to the campaign’s lack of success (1/23).