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).
Pakistan Polio Immunization Campaign Might Not Reach 240,000 Children Because Of Militant Leaders' Bans On Vaccine
A national polio vaccination campaign set to begin this week in Pakistan might not reach 240,000 children in the northwest because of a Taliban ban on the inoculations, Agence France-Presse reports. Local militant leaders “have banned polio vaccinations in the northwestern tribal region of Waziristan to protest against U.S. drone attacks” and “have condemned the immunization campaign, which is slated to begin on Monday, as a cover for espionage,” the news agency writes (7/14). The social affairs secretary for the country’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas “says local officials and non-governmental organizations are working with tribal elders and clerics to help convince the Taliban and other militant groups to allow the immunization campaign to take place in North and South Waziristan,” according to VOA News’ “Breaking News” blog (7/13). TIME reports that the leaders have said the ban on vaccinations “would not be lifted until the drone strikes stop” (Baker, 7/15).
New York Times Examines How CIA's Decision To Use Vaccination Team Affecting Polio Eradication Efforts
The New York Times examines how the CIA’s 2011 decision to use a vaccination team to collect DNA samples and information from residents of Osama bin Laden’s compound damaged efforts to vaccinate children for polio in Pakistan. The effects of the campaign, which has prompted local leaders to ban polio vaccination teams, will not be fully known “until the summer spike of polio cases tapers off in the fall,” the newspaper writes and reviews the history of the case as well as polio in the region. Elias Durry, the WHO’s polio coordinator for Pakistan, “and other leaders of the global war on polio say they have recovered from worse setbacks,” and many experts are confident that Pakistan eventually will eliminate polio, according to the New York Times (McNeil, 7/9).
“Ten years after Europe was declared polio-free, the world stands tantalizingly close to eradicating the disease for good,” but “[t]he world’s chances of achieving this once unthinkable goal of ending polio are being jeopardized by a funding gap of $945 million,” Sir Liam Donaldson, chair of the Independent Monitoring Board of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, writes in this EurActiv.com opinion piece. “This shortfall means vaccination campaigns for 2012 will face cancellations in 33 countries, leaving 94 million children under-immunized,” Donaldson notes, and continues, “This is not just unacceptable: it is also highly damaging and will make our efforts to eradicate polio more expensive and challenging in years to come.”
“A senior Taliban commander has effectively banned polio eradication in one of the most troubled areas of the Pakistan frontier in an effort to force the U.S. to end drone strikes,” the Guardian reports. “Leaflets distributed in South Waziristan on behalf of Mullah Nazir, the leader of the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies (Fata), accused health workers who administer anti-polio drops of being U.S. spies” and “questioned the sincerity of international efforts to tackle the highly infectious disease,” the newspaper adds.