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).
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative has published a special issue of its “Polio News” bulletin in recognition of World Polio Day on October 24. The issue includes several articles examining global eradication efforts and calls for readers to become a part of the day by joining “the world’s biggest commercial” or by downloading an action pack (October 2012).
Though Pakistani officials said Monday there has been a significant decline in the number of families refusing polio vaccination in the country, almost a half million children did not receive the immunization, Agence France-Presse reports. “The number of refusing families has declined (44 percent) from 80,330 during the first national polio round held in January to 45,122 in October,” according to a joint statement from the WHO, the U.N., and the Pakistani government, the news agency writes. “The success achieved notwithstanding, every unvaccinated child constitutes a major challenge,” Elias Durry, WHO senior coordinator for polio eradication, said, according to the news agency. Shahnaz Wazir Ali, a senior adviser to the prime minister, said, “We need to take adequate steps to ensure that the number of children missed for reasons other than refusals is also brought down,” AFP writes. Polio remains endemic in Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan, where 30 cases have been recorded so far this year, the news agency notes (10/22).
“Last month, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon convened a group of global leaders, including [Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Co-Chair] Bill Gates and heads of state of polio-affected countries, to renew the commitment to eliminate polio,” William Keenan, executive director of the International Pediatric Association, and Robert Block, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, note in the Huffington Post’s “Global Motherhood” blog. “This show of solidarity reminds us that the fight is not finished,” they write, and continue, “Armed with effective vaccines, pediatricians, partner organizations and front-line workers around the globe have eliminated 99 percent of all new polio cases.” They state, “We can’t afford to lose sight of this remaining one percent of polio cases.”
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).
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).
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).