“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.”
“[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.