“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.
In this post in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists” blog, Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Oshinsky examines the development of the world’s first polio vaccine, noting that the vaccine, developed by Jonas Salk of the University of Pittsburgh, turned 57 on Thursday. “Now, with an eye on the endgame, scientists and researchers are developing even better vaccines,” Oshinsky writes, concluding, “The fight to end polio will not be easy, but it surely can be done. … We must seize this historic opportunity, fulfilling the promise we made to our children — to all children — 57 years ago today” (4/12).
“South Sudan officials are hopeful the country will soon be declared polio-free,” if the nation can go another four months without recording a polio case, VOA News reports. “Before 2008, the area that is now South Sudan had been considered free of polio,” but “[t]hat year the country was re-infected through an imported strain that originated in Nigeria,” the news service writes. The country has not recorded a new case in more than 32 months, Abdi Aden Mohamed, head of the WHO in South Sudan, said, adding, “We are very cautious in the sense of there are a number of countries surrounding South Sudan that cases might be here and there,” according to VOA. Volunteers working to vaccinate every child under the age of six recently concluded the country’s 24th immunization campaign since polio reappeared in the nation, the news service notes (Green, 3/30).
“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.
“Eradicating polio and improving the health of millions of children in Pakistan depend quite heavily on assuring that all children have access to life-saving vaccines,” but “[t]he most recent policy prescription from the Pakistani parliament to improve immunization coverage, however, misses the mark, and badly,” Orin Levine, executive director of the International Vaccine Access Center, writes in this Huffington Post “World” blog post. “A draft bill being finalized in the Pakistani parliament would require compulsory vaccination of all children, and would introduce tough penalties — including fines and imprisonment — for parents of unvaccinated children,” Levine says. However, supply issues may prevent some parents from being able to vaccinate children, and the threat of punishment may force some to falsify immunization records, he notes.