“International health experts say the global campaign to eradicate polio has reached a critical stage, with Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria the only countries where the crippling and potentially deadly virus is still prevalent,” VOA News reports. “Health officials in Pakistan say they are redoubling efforts to vaccinate every child against polio after 198 new cases were reported in the country last year, the largest number anywhere in the world,” the news service notes. It goes on to highlight several challenges to the efforts, including “an ongoing insurgency and the influx of millions of Pakistani and Afghan refugees” and public opposition to the vaccinations resulting from misperceptions and concerns about safety (Padden, 6/9).
“Impressed with India’s successful effort in polio eradication,” a nine-member Pakistani delegation on Thursday met India’s health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and senior officials of the Ministry to discuss the country’s polio eradication program, the Press Trust of India/Business Standard reports, noting that India achieved a polio-free status as of January (5/31). “‘The focus of our visit here was for us to learn firsthand from the government officials and partners exactly what it took for India to become polio free,’ leader of the Pakistan delegation, Shahnaz Wazir Ali, said,” the PTI/Times of India writes (5/31).
In this Atlantic opinion piece, Rachel Hills, a freelance writer based in London, examines the WHO’s decision on May 25 to declare polio a public health emergency, “calling for the 194 member states to fully fund the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, and fill the currently $945 million gap in its budget for 2012-13.” She writes, “Few people probably associate the phrase ‘global health emergency’ with polio, a disease that has been around for 5,000 years and is on a decades-long decline so steep that there are less than a thousand recorded cases left on Earth,” but “polio’s threat is still very real, and the mission to finally stamp it out forever is a crucial one for reasons even bigger than the disease itself.”
“[P]eople everywhere have a stake in eradicating polio, as we have stamped out smallpox,” a Bloomberg View editorial states, adding, “Immunizing the last unvaccinated children on the planet is an expensive and complex undertaking, and worth it in the long run.” The editorial notes, “If polio transmission could be stopped by 2015, the net benefit from reduced treatment costs and productivity gains through 2035 would be $40 billion to $50 billion, according to a 2010 study.”
“The last three countries where polio is still paralyzing children — Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria — said on Thursday that they have enlisted Muslim women and religious leaders to allay fears of vaccination and wipe out the disease,” Reuters reports. According to Shahnaz Wazir Ali, a special assistant to Pakistan’s Prime Minister who is in charge of the polio eradication campaign, more than 20 leading Islamic scholars “have signed an endorsement of the polio eradication program, which is being used to persuade Pakistani parents” to allow their children to be vaccinated, the news agency writes. In Nigeria, the Federation of Muslim Women’s Associations is backing a polio immunization campaign there, Reuters notes. “It is not the first time that the world has come tantalizingly close to wiping out the crippling disease,” the news agency writes. “‘We’re so close, there is no time for complacency,’ Dr. Christopher Elias, head of global development at the [Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation], a major donor, told Reuters in Geneva,” Reuters adds (Nebehay, 5/24).
“A global initiative to rid the world of polio launched an emergency action plan on Thursday because gaps in funding and vaccination coverage threaten to derail a final push towards stamping out the paralyzing disease,” AlertNet reports (Rowling, 5/24). “Despite the dramatic drop in polio cases in the last year, the threat of continued transmission due to funding and immunization gaps has driven the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) to launch an Emergency Action Plan,” a GPEI press release states. “‘Polio eradication is at a tipping point between success and failure,’ said Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization,” the press release states. “We are in emergency mode to tip it towards success — working faster and better, focusing on the areas where children are most vulnerable,” she added, according to the release (5/24).
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.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday during travel to India met with Indian Minister of Health and Family Welfare Ghulam Nazi Azad and “commend[ed] the country’s progress on health,” its “continued efforts towards achieving universal health coverage,” and its “commitment to the Global Strategy on Women’s and Children’s Health,” highlighting “its innovative programs in this area” and “the need to do more to promote the well-being of women and children,” the U.N. News Centre reports (4/26). Recognizing the “work still to be done to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, Ban said he would like to showcase India’s experiences and best practices in dealing with maternal and child health issues for others to follow,” according to the IANS/Daily News. Ban also “said [U.N.] member nations … are ready to help India in dealing with polio, malaria, tetanus, measles and HIV transmission-related mortality,” the news service notes (4/26).
“A ‘final push’ is needed toward eradication of polio worldwide, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control said” in an online update on the agency’s polio eradication efforts, United Press International reports. “Polio incidence dropped more than 99 percent since the launch of global polio eradication efforts in 1988 and no polio cases have been reported since January 2011 in India, one of the four remaining endemic countries, a CDC report said,” UPI writes. “‘Nevertheless, poliovirus transmission is ongoing in the other three endemic countries — Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan — and travelers have carried the infection back to 39 previously polio-free countries over the last several years,’ [the update] said,” according to UPI.
Large Childhood Immunization Campaign Begins In Haiti, With Support From U.S., Other International Partners
Haiti, the U.S. and other international partners on Monday launched “a nationwide vaccination campaign in the Caribbean country that seeks to curb or prevent infectious diseases, health officials said,” the Associated Press/Fox News reports. The campaign will include immunizations against measles, rubella and polio, as well as the pentavalent vaccine, which is effective against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenza type b, according to the news agency. Immunization rates are low in Haiti, with the WHO reporting slightly more than half of the population immunized for measles and polio, but the current campaign aims to vaccinate 90 percent of Haiti’s youth population, according to Health Minister Florence Duperval Guillaume, the news agency notes.