“Polio will never be eradicated in Pakistan until a way is found to persuade poor Pashtuns to embrace the vaccine, according to a study released by the World Health Organization” in its November bulletin, the New York Times reports. A survey of 1,017 parents of young children living in “Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city and the only big city in the world where polio persists, … found that 41 percent had never heard of polio and 11 percent refused to vaccinate their children against it,” according to the newspaper. Some parents from poor families “cited lack of permission from family elders,” Anita Zaidi, a professor at the Aga Khan University in Karachi, said, adding some wealthy parents said the vaccine was “harmful or unnecessary,” the newspaper notes. “Pashtuns account for 75 percent of Pakistan’s polio cases even though they are only 15 percent of the population,” the newspaper adds, noting poorer children are at a higher risk because they are more likely to be exposed to raw sewage, where the virus travels. According to the New York Times, “the eradication drive is recruiting Pashtuns as vaccinators and asking prominent religious leaders from various sects to make videos endorsing the vaccine” (McNeil, 11/5).
“Afghanistan is taking steps to improve its routine immunization coverage, after a drop in coverage led to a sharp increase in measles outbreaks last year, killing more than 300 children,” IRIN reports. “Experts say nearly 30 percent of the population has no or very poor access to primary health care, including immunization, and the percentage is estimated to be as high as 70 percent in areas of conflict in the south,” the news service writes, adding “decreasing vaccination coverage [is] due to rising insecurity, decreased access, difficult terrain and harsh winters,” as well as last year’s severe drought. “In the National Priority Programmes, which outline government priorities until 2015, the government admits many vaccinators lack initial training, and that budget shortages in past years prevented supervisory and monitoring visits by provincial level management teams,” IRIN states, adding that the WHO this year has implemented training programs and, along with UNICEF and the Ministry of Health, has combined the measles and polio vaccination campaigns to better utilize resources (11/1).
While there is “much to be proud of” in the progress in the fight against polio, “there’s still more work to be done,” former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin writes in a GlobalPost opinion piece. Martin, a polio survivor, notes that in 1988, when the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was launched, 350,000 cases in more than 125 countries were recorded annually, but “[s]o far this year, we’ve seen just 171 cases, and only Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria have never stopped transmission.” He continues, “Canada has been a leader in this fight,” but “[t]he credit for this progress, of course, goes far beyond Canada” to “the work of global partners like the World Health Organization, UNICEF, Rotary International and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; the frontline workers whose tireless efforts make all of this possible; and the countries that are making the political and financial commitments necessary to see the end of this disease.”
“The world is on the verge of a great success story: the eradication of polio,” John Hewko, CEO and general secretary of Rotary International, and Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and special adviser to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, write in the Huffington Post’s “Global Motherhood” blog. But “[t]here is still ground to cover,” they continue. “Even though the current cases of polio transmission number less than 200 so far this year, the case for finishing the job — getting to zero — is more crucial than ever,” they write, adding, “If polio is fully eradicated, it can’t ever return. On the other hand, if even a few cases persist, and the world lets its guard down, those few cases could become the start of a new epidemic.”
In its ongoing series examining efforts to eradicate polio, NPR health editor Joe Neel and Jason Beaubien, a global health and development correspondent for the news service, on Thursday spoke with “Talk of the Nation” host Neil Conan about obstacles to stamping out polio in the three countries where the disease persists — Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria. According to the transcript, they discuss how “[o]bstacles in each country, including religious extremism, difficult terrain and transient populations, make eradication efforts difficult” (10/25).
UNICEF Calls For 'Finishing' Global Polio Eradication; Rotary International Warns Of Funding Shortfall In India
UNICEF on Wednesday “called for continued dedication in ‘finishing the job’ in eradicating polio, while also applauding India for being ‘declared polio free’ for the first time in history,” Xinhua reports. “UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said in a statement released â€¦ on World Polio Day, which falls on Oct. 24, that ‘fewer children than ever before suffer the debilitating effects of this cruel disease,'” the news service writes (10/24). “Lake added that the world must concentrate its efforts in reaching children that are most at risk: children with disabilities, living in extreme poverty and in conflict zones in remote areas,” the U.N. News Centre writes (10/24).
The following opinion pieces were published on Wednesday in recognition of World Polio Day, observed annually on October 24.
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).