Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, arrived in Nigeria on Tuesday, where he held talks with government officials and traditional leaders to discuss polio eradication efforts in the country’s worst-hit northwestern region, Agence France-Presse reports (9/27). During the three-day trip, Gates, along with the foundation’s CEO, Jeff Raikes, will “follow up … on the Abuja Commitments to Polio Eradication, in which Nigerian federal and local government officials committed in 2009 to have at least 90 percent of children immunized against polio toward its eradication,” Daily Times Nigeria writes.
“Polio has broken out in China for the first time since 1999 after being imported from Pakistan, and there is a high risk of the crippling virus spreading further during the annual Haj pilgrimage, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday,” Reuters reports (9/20). Nine cases of wild poliovirus type 1 have been recorded in China’s western province of Xinjiang, which borders Pakistan, WHO spokesperson Oliver Rosenbauer said, according to Daily News and Analysis, GlobalPost notes (9/21). A genetic link has been confirmed between the virus detected in China and a strain circulating in Pakistan, according to the Associated Press/USA Today (9/20). BBC News reports that “Chinese authorities are now investigating the cases, and a mass vaccination campaign has been launched in the region” (9/20).
Officials in Pakistan on Monday “announced targeted, three-day anti-polio campaigns in affected areas, which include Karachi and districts in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas,” the Wall Street Journal’s “India Real Time” blog reports. According to the Global Eradication Initiative, led by the WHO, 84 cases of type 1 polio have been reported in Pakistan so far this year, nearly twice as many cases as the country had recorded by this time last year, according to the blog.
“Afghanistan is intensifying efforts to eradicate polio by the end of next year, but security remains a major challenge especially in the southern provinces where the virus is localized, says” Arshad Quddus, head of the WHO polio program in Afghanistan, IRIN reports. Polio remains endemic in Afghanistan, according to the WHO, IRIN notes, adding that Afghan “[g]overnment data show that 85 percent of the population now live in polio-free areas, but the virus is still circulating in 13 districts, including the seven where  recent cases have been detected.” In addition to security issues, “low literacy rates, poor hygiene practices and low awareness of the benefits of vaccination” are hindering campaigns, according to IRIN (9/15).
Speaking at the 61st session of the WHO Regional Office for Africa (AFRO) in Yamoussoukro, Cote d’Ivoire, on Thursday, African Regional Director of WHO Luis Sambo said “that 46 Africa member countries still had remarkable challenges to scale before meeting the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),” Nigeria’s The Nation reports.
“According to the latest report from the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), continued transmission of polio is a ‘global health emergency,’ and plans to interrupt transmission by the end of 2012 are ‘at risk,'” the Lancet Infectious Diseases reports, adding, “With a US$590 million funding gap and weak political leadership in some countries, the engagement of communities to plan and implement local approaches is paramount.”
“The 36-member Nigerian Governors’ Forum has launched a new initiative to rid the country of polio,” VOA News reports.
PBS NewsHour reports on polio eradication efforts underway in India’s Uttar Pradesh and Bihar states, which “have been the source of all the polio viruses that have crippled children in India, â€¦ one of four countries in the world where polio is still endemic, though it appears it may be on the cusp of finally halting transmission,” according to the news service.
The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is providing approximately $65 million to Pakistan’s government to provide polio vaccination campaigns in the country, “one of the most difficult fronts against the disease as global health organizations risk missing their goal of stopping polio globally the end of 2012,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “If Pakistan achieves certain goals with the money, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will repay the loan to Japan, according to officials briefed on the plan,” according to the newspaper (Guth, 8/18).
In a New York Times essay, journalist Donald McNeil writes, “To a doctor, all epidemics are objectively different â€¦ But to the mortals they mow down, all epidemics are emotionally alike â€” an onslaught of fear, awe, repulsion, stigma, denial, rage and blame â€” and doctors would be foolish to forget that.”