Pakistan and Afghanistan, “the world’s two worst polio-affected countries,” have “decided to form a joint block under the World Health Organization to eradicate the infectious disease — which causes motor paralysis and the atrophy of skeletal muscles, often resulting in permanent physical disability or deformity — by December 2012,” Inter Press Service reports. “The decision was made last year by the Technical Advisory Board (TAG), which is responsible for developing new strategies to wipe out the disease globally,” the news service notes.
“The key to India’s success” in going a full year without recording a case of polio “was to take ownership of the problem and the solution, allowing for locals to learn from the expertise of the international community while not becoming dependent” on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and international donors, William Thomson, a research assistant at the U.S. Naval War College, writes in The Diplomat’s “India Decade.”
In this video report, Al Jazeera examines polio eradication efforts in Pakistan, writing, “[I]n an unusual effort to eliminate the disease, health workers are stopping vehicles at a busy toll booth outside Islamabad to administer free polio vaccination drops to children under the age of five.” The video recounts a “promise” made by Pakistan’s prime minister last month to eliminate new polio infections in the country by the end of the year and provides commentary by Shahnaz Wazir Ali, assistant to the prime minister on social affairs, and Dennis King of UNICEF Pakistan about the target, current infection rates, and ongoing eradication efforts (Tyab, 2/6).
“Poor-quality emergency immunization campaigns and low routine polio immunization coverage are helping the polio virus to spread in Chad, with 132 cases reported in 2011 — five times the number in 2010,” IRIN reports. “More commitment is needed across the board, especially from local health authorities, to try to get immunizations right, say aid agencies,” the news service adds.
Gates Urges Governments, Wealthy Donors Not To Cut Aid To Poor Countries; Annual Letter Sets Foundation’s Priorities
In a speech to the European Parliament on Tuesday, Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, “told European lawmakers in Brussels not to cut aid to poor countries despite the economic and budgetary problems facing” European Union (E.U.) countries, Agence France-Presse reports. Gates “praised the [E.U.] whose support in health and development he said has been greater than that of the United States,” AFP notes (1/24). On Wednesday, Gates “will be at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, where he plans to exhort wealthy donors — especially governments — to keep funding a range of crucial projects in the developing world, from tuberculosis drugs and antimalaria bed nets to maternal care and vaccines,” the Wall Street Journal writes. Gates “plans to make his case by showcasing ideas, backed by his foundation, that have helped cost-effectively tackle problems in global health,” according to the newspaper (Naik, 1/25).
In part one of a two-part blog post in USAID’s “IMPACTblog,” USAID Worldwide Polio Eradication Coordinator Ellyn Ogden reports on the “hard work and dedication of the Indian government at the national, state, district, block and panchaiyat levels” that was required for the country to have a year free of polio. “Over two million health workers, mobilizers, and volunteers have contributed to this success and deserve to be seen as heroes in their communities,” she writes (1/20). In part two of the post, Ogden recaps polio vaccination efforts and challenges, discusses the last recorded case of polio, and writes that going forward, “Guarded optimism prevails” as the country “is still at risk of importations from countries that have not yet stopped polio transmission” (1/23).
IRIN examines several factors that could be contributing to an increase in polio cases in Pakistan, “despite the launch of a National Emergency Action Plan for Polio Eradication” at the beginning of 2011. In 2010, Pakistan recorded 144 cases of polio and 192 cases in 2011, the news service reports. According to IRIN, refusals by some households to vaccinate children; “administrative laxity” and “poorly run campaigns”; and malnutrition, vitamin deficiencies, and diarrhea among children could be contributing to the campaign’s lack of success (1/23).
GlobalPost’s “Global Pulse” blog interviews Ellyn Ogden, USAID’s worldwide polio eradication coordinator since 1997, about India’s progress in eradicating polio as it marked one year without a confirmed case and discusses what the overall eradication fight looks like today. Ogden said she believes global eradication of polio is possible, adding, “We pretty much owe it to India to give this effort some time. They worked so hard to get 172 million kids vaccinated. There are always skeptics. But it doesn’t get much more difficult than in India. If they can do it here, we should be able to do it anyplace with the tools and strategies we have” (Donnelly, 1/17).
The New York Times examines how after years of decline, the number of recorded polio cases in Afghanistan tripled in 2011 to 76, following only 25 cases in 2010, raising concerns among international health experts that polio is seeing a resurgence, “particularly since some of the cases erupted far outside the disease’s traditional areas in Afghanistan.”
“After more than a century as a global scourge and hundreds of thousands lives lost, polio may now be on the verge of being the second human disease wiped off the face of the Earth,” Charles Kenny, senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, writes in his column for ForeignPolicy.com, “The Optimist,” and asks whether it is worth it to spend billions of dollars to wipe out the few remaining cases of the disease. Kenny discusses the cost-effectiveness of eradication efforts and writes, “In part because of the considerably greater complexity of the vaccination program, the cost of the polio eradication program is mounting.”