“A senior Taliban commander has effectively banned polio eradication in one of the most troubled areas of the Pakistan frontier in an effort to force the U.S. to end drone strikes,” the Guardian reports. “Leaflets distributed in South Waziristan on behalf of Mullah Nazir, the leader of the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies (Fata), accused health workers who administer anti-polio drops of being U.S. spies” and “questioned the sincerity of international efforts to tackle the highly infectious disease,” the newspaper adds.
Polio Eradication Efforts Threatened By Funding Shortfall, Vaccination Resistance In Some Countries, Experts Say
Marking the 10th anniversary since Europe was declared polio-free, the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative on Wednesday released a report (.pdf) saying there is “a unique window of opportunity to stamp out polio for good,” with the number of reported cases at historical lows, but a funding shortfall of about $1 million is threatening eradication progress, Reuters reports. Polio “remains endemic in three countries — Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria — after India in January became the latest country to become polio-free,” the news agency notes. IMB Chair Liam Donaldson “said the global financial crisis coupled with growing needs for polio funding had led to a shortfall of $945 million out of a total 2012-13 eradication program budget of $2 billion” and that 33 countries would have to cancel their vaccination programs, leaving 94 million children unprotected, according to Reuters (Kelland, 6/20).
In this NDTV opinion piece, Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, reflects on his recent trip to India, writing, “During my recent visit, I had a chance to see the latest progress on things that matter a lot to us: on eradicating polio and curtailing the spread of infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, for example.” He continues, “And I saw how India is emerging as a model and increasingly a catalyst for improvement in other developing countries,” adding, “The current situation in India is quite hopeful.”
“Zimbabwe embarked on a massive immunization campaign against measles and polio on Monday, targeting about two million children under the age of five,” VOA News reports. “Health and Child Welfare Minister Henry Madzorera launched the program in Harare, administering vaccines to a number of children and doses of vitamin A supplements,” the news service writes, noting, “Statistics show that at least 100 children die of largely preventable diseases in the country every day, and officials say the week-long vaccination program is meant to roll back the worrying mortality rate.”
“A Pakistani militant group threatened action on Saturday against anyone conducting polio vaccinations in the region where it is based, saying the health care drive was a cover for U.S. spies,” Reuters reports, adding, “The group, based in North Waziristan and led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur, said it had banned vaccinations for as long as U.S. drone aircraft continued to make missile strikes in Pakistan” (Mujtaba, 6/16). “The statement by Hafiz Gul Bahadur is an obstacle to efforts to beat polio in Pakistan, one of only three nations where the virus is endemic,” the Associated Press writes (6/17).
Noting that polio is endemic in only Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria, and the WHO recently declared the disease a “programmatic emergency” to “galvanize work” in those three countries, a Washington Post editorial states, “A renewed campaign [against the disease] will be costly.” The editorial notes, “The Global Polio Eradication Initiative, set up in 1988 by the WHO, UNICEF, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Rotary International, says that it needs an additional $945 million for a total budget of $2.19 billion this year and next.”
In this post in the Global Health Governance blog, Jenilee Guebert, director of research for the global health diplomacy program and G8 research group at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, writes that, “for the second year in a row, the amount of attention devoted to global health” at the annual G8 summit, which took place at Camp David in Maryland in May, has declined. “Global health was not completely absent from the summit,” she continues, highlighting several health initiatives discussed at the meeting, including the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, launched “to accelerate the flow of private capital to African agriculture” with an aim of “lift[ing] 50 million people out of poverty over the next decade.”
“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.”