In this post in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists” blog, Bill Gates, co-chair of the foundation, reflects on Angola’s success against polio, writing, “Angola marked a full year without a new case of polio” this month, an accomplishment that serves as “the latest evidence that we are extremely close to ending polio forever.” He continues, “Polio is a formidable foe and Angola is one of the world’s poorest nations with numerous health challenges to tackle, which makes Angola’s achievement especially noteworthy,” adding, “Like all 125 countries that have gotten rid of polio since 1988, Angola’s leaders and citizens also deserve the global resolve needed to ensure that no country ever has to go back and re-do the hard, expensive work that’s already been done to protect their children from polio” (8/27).
“It seems public health is the latest casualty of Pakistan’s fight against homegrown militants and extremist groups,” Huma Yusuf, a columnist for the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, writes in this post in the New York Times’ “Latitude” blog, highlighting a recent ban on polio immunization campaigns by the Taliban. “After a period of retreat, the polio virus has recently been detected in sewage samples from several Karachi localities,” she notes, writing, “Today, 22,000 children may be at risk in Karachi, and as many as 250,000 in the tribal areas where Bahadur is based.” She continues, “The resurgence of polio in Karachi is especially worrying because the city is an incubator of disease.”
The Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) on Monday released a report called “Eradicating Polio in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” According to the report summary, efforts to eradicate the virus globally “have proved largely successful, in part thanks to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), launched by the international community in 1988,” and “[t]he number of new cases has dropped in the past decade, even in countries where the virus has never been eradicated.” The summary adds, “Today, there are only three countries in the world where the polio virus remains endemic: Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan” (8/13).
“The global effort to eradicate polio received a SEK 1 million [about $150,000] boost today as Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, dedicated the monetary award she accepted from the TÃ¤llberg Foundation to Rotary International — a humanitarian service organization that has made a polio-free world its top priority,” according to a Gates Foundation press release. “Rotary International has been an invaluable champion for bringing the world more than 99 percent of the way toward a polio-free world, and will continue to be in the final steps to success,” Gates said, according to the press release (8/6).
In a series of “News Focus” articles in Science, the magazine examines the global effort to eradicate polio. One article examines the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) — a partnership of the WHO, Rotary International, UNICEF, the CDC, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — and recent reports on the program by an Independent Monitoring Board (IMB), “an oversight body” that provides feedback and guidance. A second and third article look at efforts to vaccinate children against polio in Pakistan, which “is the perfect case study for why it is so hard to eradicate poliovirus from its last few strongholds — and what it might take to pull it off.” The WHO’s Chris Maher “and others attribute the explosion of cases last year to a perfect storm of all the problems that are Pakistan: poverty and illiteracy; a health system in tatters; ethnic and sectarian violence; a government struggling to deal with corruption and dysfunction; huge population movements; and, especially since 9/11, rising extremism and anti-Western views — not to mention the natural attrition that accompanies any program that has dragged on for so long,” according to Science (Roberts, 8/3).
“Health efforts are close to wiping out polio, but two significant challenges remain: money and the operational logistics of getting the vaccine to people who need it,” CNN writes in an article examining “how far we’ve come with polio and what’s left to be done.” The news service provides statistics of polio infection globally and a history of polio in the U.S., and compares polio eradication efforts to those of other diseases. “The World Health Organization has an action plan for the next 18 months that could very well lead to eradication, says Oliver Rosenbauer, spokesman for polio efforts at the organization,” the news service writes and highlights a number of challenges moving forward (Landau, 7/30).
Though “a massive 24-year global effort to eradicate [polio] forever is now within striking distance of its goal, … there is still a very real danger that the entire campaign could come undone,” Jay Winsten, associate dean at the Harvard School of Public Health, and Emily Serazin, a principal in the Washington, D.C. office of the Boston Consulting Group, write in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece. The campaign to eradicate the disease faces geopolitical challenges, “[b]ut the biggest danger faced by the campaign is a dramatic funding shortfall of $945 million — almost half the amount originally budgeted for 2012-13,” they write. “The challenges faced by the polio campaign are emblematic of problems that affect worldwide efforts to conquer vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and whooping cough,” Winsten and Serazin state and note that a Global Vaccine Action Plan was recently compiled by a huge collaborative effort and endorsed by the World Health Assembly. “With sufficient funding and political will, the massive health and economic benefits of vaccines are indeed attainable,” they conclude (7/24).
In a statement on Saturday, the World Health Organization and UNICEF said “a local community worker who helped an anti-polio campaign in Pakistan has been shot and killed in Karachi — days after two of its staff were injured in a shooting in the city,” the Associated Press reports (7/21). According to the WHO/UNICEF joint statement, Muhammad Ishaq was killed in the Gadap town area on Friday evening” (7/21). “The United Nations condemned the killing … on Friday,” the U.N. News Centre writes, noting, “Mr. Ishaq had worked with the national polio eradication effort as a Union Council Polio Worker for several months, helping to plan and implement vaccination campaigns to protect vulnerable children against the disease” (7/22).
“Gunmen in Pakistan shot and wounded a staff member of the World Health Organization (WHO) and an expatriate consultant working for the United Nations health agency on Tuesday, the WHO said,” Reuters reports (Nebehay, 7/17). “The attack was a further blow to the three-day polio vaccination drive, which had already been stymied in some parts of the country by Taliban threats. Attacks on international aid workers in Karachi have been rare,” according to the New York Times (Walsh, 7/17). WHO said in a statement there was “no evidence to suggest that this was a deliberate or targeted attack against polio eradication efforts or WHO,” Agence France-Presse notes (Mansoor, 7/16). BBC News writes, “No group has said it carried out the shooting, but the Taliban have issued threats against the polio drive” (7/17). “A ban on polio vaccinations imposed by the Taliban could affect about 280,000 children living in tribal areas of northwest Pakistan, according to estimates from the [WHO],” CNN reports (Park, 7/17).
In this post on her blog, “The Garrett Update,” Laurie Garrett, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), examines the potential implications of a fake hepatitis vaccine campaign carried out by the CIA in Pakistan last year in an attempt to gather DNA from Osama bin Laden’s family. She writes that “the fake vaccine effort has now put at least 300,000 children in Afghanistan and Pakistan in danger of contracting polio, led multiple imams and Taliban leaders to declare vaccines are CIA plots, and [on Tuesday] prompted what appears to have been an assassination attempt against a World Health Organization immunization convoy, leaving two individuals alive, but shot” (7/17).