Instability and insecurity in some West and Central African nations are threatening the success of a 20-country polio vaccination campaign, which aims to immunize 111.1 million children against the disease, IRIN reports. Ongoing insurgent attacks threaten the campaign in Nigeria, the region’s only polio-endemic country and home to 57.7 million of the children targeted, the news service notes. Parts of Mali, Niger, and Chad also pose security problems for health care workers trying to access children in remote or disputed areas, according to IRIN. “Human error and weak health systems also play an important role in sub-optimal immunization reach,” the news service writes, noting so far, “only Ghana, Cape Verde, Burkina Faso, Gambia, and Togo have achieved the required 90 percent coverage, according to UNICEF” (3/23).
In this BMJ Group blogs post, Richard Smith, editor of the BMJ until 2004 and director of the United Health Group’s chronic disease initiative, examines whether efforts to eradicate polio can be successful, writing, “Despite the problems of geography, war, insurgency, politics, communication, finance, and people management, there are optimistic signs, said … Sir Liam Donaldson, former chief medical officer in England and now chair of the International Monitoring Board for the Global Polio Eradication Programme.” He continues, “This is, [Donaldson] concluded, a ‘unique moment in public health': with one last heave the disease could be eradicated, but if it isn’t financial backing will disappear, health workers will not be paid, systems will break down, and cases of polio will rise back into the tens or hundreds of thousands” (3/22).
“Some 111.1 million children below the age of five are to be vaccinated against polio in a synchronized campaign covering 20 countries in West and Central Africa starting on Friday,” the WHO and UNICEF said in a joint statement on Wednesday, PANA reports (3/21). The campaign, which will last for four days, “is intended to serve as a massive boost in efforts to eradicate the disease, and will involve national health ministries and U.N. agencies, as well as tens of thousands of volunteers who will go from door-to-door immunizing children,” the U.N. News Centre writes (3/21).
VOA News examines polio vaccination efforts in Pakistan, where “authorities say national pride is now at stake for polio eradication and they are hoping to overcome years of setbacks from natural disasters, misinformation and war.” Though health workers hold eight nationwide vaccine campaigns each year, reaching each child is challenging because of fighting in some regions; migration; public mistrust of the vaccine; and inadequate clean water and sanitation, which allows the polio virus to thrive, according to VOA (Padden, 3/20).
On Monday, “a girl admitted to a hospital in West Bengal with polio-like symptoms sparked worries that India’s battle against polio may not be over yet,” the Wall Street Journal’s “India Real Time” blog reports, noting, “The suspected polio case … comes just two weeks after the WHO removed India from the list of countries where polio is endemic” (Stancati, 3/14). “‘It is a suspected case of polio. In medical parlance, the symptoms are called acute flaccid paralysis. The patient is under observation,’ Kumar Kanti Das, superintendent of Baruipur Subdivisional Hospital, [where the girl was admitted,] told the local Hindustan Times newspaper,” the Guardian writes (Burke, 3/13).
InterAction Sends Letter To CIA Head Protesting Use Of Vaccination Plot To Find Bin Laden In Pakistan
“An alliance of 200 U.S. aid groups has written to the head of the CIA to protest against its use of a doctor to help track Osama bin Laden, linking the agency’s ploy to the polio crisis in Pakistan,” the Guardian reports, noting Pakistan recorded the highest number of polio cases in the world last year. The CIA used a “fake vaccination scheme in the town of Abbottabad … in order to gain entry to the house where it was suspected that the al-Qaida chief was living, and extract DNA samples from his family members,” the newspaper writes. But the plan “provided seeming proof for a widely held belief in Pakistan, fuelled by religious extremists, that polio drops are a western conspiracy to sterilize the population,” according to the Guardian.
“A constitutional debate is under way in Nigeria over whether the government can prosecute parents who refuse to have their children vaccinated against polio, or if it has the power to force parents to have their children vaccinated against any communicable disease,” VOA News reports. “The debate comes on the heels of a resolution by the government of Nigeria’s northern Kano state to prosecute any parent who refuses to have their children receive the oral vaccine against the highly contagious disease,” the news service notes.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday “launched a national polio vaccination campaign in Angola, where the crippling disease has returned despite being eradicated in 2001, and praised the government for its leadership on the issue,” the U.N. News Centre reports. “Angola provides a large majority of the funding needed to vaccinate the countryâ€™s children,” the news service writes. Ban said the return of polio to Angola within four years after it was eradicated in 2001 illustrated the importance of immunization against polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases, as well as responding to any new polio cases, according to the news service (2/27).
“India was taken off a list of polio endemic countries by the World Health Organization on Saturday, marking a massive victory for health workers battling the crippling disease” and “leav[ing] just three countries with endemic polio — Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria,” Agence France-Presse reports (2/26). “Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said the WHO removed India from the list after the country passed one year without registering any new cases,” the Associated Press/CBS News writes, adding, “India must pass another two years without new cases to be declared polio-free” (2/27).
The PBS NewsHour examines polio eradication efforts in India, which has gone an entire year without reporting a polio case. “For India, the challenge is to remain vigilant and polio free for two more years to officially fall off the list of endemic countries,” according to the news service (De Sam Lazaro, 2/20). “The success in India has been achieved through a partnership between the Indian government, with support from the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary, UNICEF and with major contributions from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,” BBC News reports in an analysis of India’s success. “The global effort to eradicate polio is the biggest public health initiative in history. It has cost billions and has already stopped a huge amount of disability and many deaths,” but the disease remains endemic in three countries — Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan, the news service notes (Walsh, 2/19).