In its ongoing series examining efforts to eradicate polio, NPR’s “All Things Considered” aired a story on Wednesday looking at how health care workers in Pakistan are attempting to overcome challenges to immunizing the child population. “Last year, the government declared a national emergency, and with the help of international institutions, embarked on an aggressive vaccination campaign,” NPR’s “Shots” blog reports, adding, “So far, the results have been promising. The number of new polio cases is about a third of last year’s total of 198.” The blog continues, “But the new campaign, like previous efforts, hasn’t been able to overcome one critical problem: getting into parts of Pakistan’s lawless tribal regions along the border with Afghanistan to vaccinate the children there” (Northam, 10/17). On NPR’s “Morning Edition” on Thursday, the news service looks at UNICEF’s recruitment of “social mobilizers,” who are working to inoculate 34 million Pakistani children (Northam, 10/18).
NPR’s “Shots” blog reports on efforts to eradicate polio in Nigeria. “[N]orthern Nigeria is the only place in the world where polio cases are increasing,” the blog writes, noting, “As of Sept. 1, it had recorded 90 polio cases in 2012 — or nearly three times as many as in the same period last year.” The blog highlights the city of Kano in northern Nigeria, which “has been called the ‘epicenter’ of the current polio outbreak,” and where “remnants of the paralyzing disease are visible even on its streets.” “Vaccination campaigns are regular fixtures here,” the blog writes, adding, “In the past few years, religious leaders in this region have gone from opposing vaccination to requiring it.”
Though “conflict and insecurity problems in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria have presented challenges to polio immunization, … these are surmountable obstacles,” Siddharth Chatterjee, chief diplomat and head of strategic partnerships and international relations at the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, writes in the International Peace Institute’s Global Observatory. “Millions of children have received polio vaccines in countries ravaged by conflict and poverty, thanks to determined action by national governments and the work of courageous health workers from UNICEF, WHO, Red Cross-Red Crescent National Societies, and [non-governmental organizations],” he notes. In addition to providing political will and humanitarian solidarity, “[w]e must ensure the effort is fully funded; not just year-by-year, but for the long term,” he writes, concluding, “We have the opportunity to ensure success, and we must not fail to deliver a legacy of a polio-free world” (10/16).
NPR’s “Shots” blog on Monday began a series of stories “reporting on the fight to eradicate the last few pockets of polio,” which begins “with a look back at how the U.S. and the rest of the world wiped out the virus for good.” The article examines the history of poliovirus in the U.S., how the disease became a national focus through the efforts of Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, and the development of vaccines by Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin. Thanks to the success of the vaccines, both of which are still in use today, the WHO set a goal to eliminate polio in 1988, and the last case recorded in the Western hemisphere was in Peru in 1991, the blog reports, noting fewer than 200 cases of polio have been recorded worldwide so far this year (Beaubien, 10/15).
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Al Ansari Exchange, “a major foreign exchange and remittance company in the [United Arab Emirates], have committed $10 million over the next five years to tackle” polio and neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), Devex reports (Ravelo, 10/10). “The agreement, which was jointly signed in Abu Dhabi by Bill Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation, and Mohammed Ali Al Ansari, chairman of the board of Al Ansari Exchange, will kick off with an initial co-funded contribution of $4 million to support polio eradication activities in Pakistan and Afghanistan and the prevention and treatment of NTDs in sub-Saharan Africa,” an Al Ansari Exchange press release notes (10/9). In his blog, “The Gates Notes,” Gates provides a transcript of his speech at the 2012 Abu Dhabi Media Summit, where the agreement was signed (10/9).
Polio Vaccination Campaign In Darfur Shows Immunizations Possible In 'Emergency And Conflict Settings'
In an Inter Press Service opinion piece, Siddharth Chatterjee, chief diplomat and head of strategic partnerships at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and Sam Agbo, an independent public health adviser in the U.K., write about the unstable situation in Darfur, Sudan, in 2004, and how “UNICEF and WHO in Sudan along with important NGO partners started planning with local authorities on how best to immunize all children in Darfur.” They outline the major challenges, including staff safety, and discuss how multi-agency teams were able to vaccinate 10,000 children in two immunization rounds. Chatterjee and Agbo add, “The polio immunization campaign was the driver for a wider process of improving and ramping up assistance to communities and this made the campaign attractive to mothers to bring their children to the immunization hubs that were established.”
Nigeria’s Vanguard features an interview with Christopher Elias, president of global development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in which he discusses the fight against polio in Nigeria. In the interview, Elias said, “Right now, we are down to just 200 cases globally, but if we were to stop the eradication efforts for polio, we could be looking at 200,000 new cases a year. We are close to the finish. What is important to recognize is that particularly in this final stage in Nigeria, we are not just eliminating polio, we are building a system to deliver vaccines for other vaccine preventable diseases that are common causes of morbidity and mortality for children. So the polio eradication will leave the world with a better surveillance system to understand the patterns of vaccine preventable disorders and better immunization and case development systems” (Ogundipe, 10/2).
NPR’s “Morning Edition” host Steve Inskeep on Monday interviewed reporter Jason Beaubien, who is traveling in northern Nigeria, about the country’s increase in polio cases this year. Beaubien discussed myths and fears surrounding polio vaccination in Nigeria, including beliefs that the immunization will sterilize children, but also said “one of the most encouraging things … is that the religious leaders in northern Nigeria are now really united. And they are coming out and saying you should get your children vaccinated. And some of them are being quite harsh as well, saying you have to get your children vaccinated.” NPR notes Nigeria has recorded 90 polio cases this year (10/1).
In Pakistan, one of only three nations worldwide where polio remains endemic, “rumors and conspiracy theories about the vaccine … have helped the country maintain its unenviable status,” recording 91 cases of the disease in 2011, Agence France-Presse reports. Most cases of the disease this year have been recorded in the Pashtun tribal areas in the northwest of the country, “where education is limited and deeply conservative values hold sway,” the news service writes, adding, “People in the area were already deeply distrustful of foreign intervention, and suspicions soared even further last year after the CIA used a hepatitis inoculation program as cover to try to find Osama bin Laden.” According to AFP, “[f]ighting between government troops and tribal militias in the northwest, as well the Taliban banning inoculations in protest at U.S. drone strikes, have also hampered efforts to fight the disease.” Health care workers are educating the public to build trust, and UNICEF is recruiting religious leaders to advocate for polio vaccination, the news service notes (Abdul, 9/29).
Political leaders, donor representatives, and medical experts on Thursday met on the sidelines of the 67th U.N. General Assembly session “to celebrate [polio eradication] efforts that have already reduced the incidence of the crippling and potentially fatal disease by 99 percent around the globe,” the U.N. News Centre reports (9/27). “Saying a decisive moment has arrived in the quest to eradicate polio, world leaders vowed … to embrace a new approach that includes long-term funding commitments, greater accountability and a specific focus on the three countries where the crippling disease remains endemic,” the Globe and Mail writes (Picard, 9/27). “[E]verything hinges on stopping polio in a few districts in Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said during an address at the event, the U.N. News Centre adds (9/27). Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, “who is helping spearhead a global campaign to eradicate polio, said Thursday he hopes that by 2015 no child in the world will be paralyzed by the disease and by 2018 polio will be wiped out,” the Associated Press writes (Lederer, 9/27).