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India Taken Off WHO List Of Polio Endemic Countries

“India was taken off a list of polio endemic countries by the World Health Organization on Saturday, marking a massive victory for health workers battling the crippling disease” and “leav[ing] just three countries with endemic polio — Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria,” Agence France-Presse reports (2/26). “Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said the WHO removed India from the list after the country passed one year without registering any new cases,” the Associated Press/CBS News writes, adding, “India must pass another two years without new cases to be declared polio-free” (2/27).

Gates Calls For Greater Coordination Among U.N. Food Agencies, Announces Nearly $200M In Grants For Agricultural Development Projects

In a speech delivered at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in Rome on Thursday, Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, told IFAD, the World Food Programme (WFP), and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) that the “approach being used today to fight against poverty and hunger is outdated and inefficient” and asked the agencies “to unite around a common global target for sustainable productivity growth to guide and measure their efforts,” a Gates Foundation press release states. “Gates also announced nearly $200 million in grants, bringing to more than $2 billion the foundation’s commitment to smallholder farmers since the agriculture program began in 2006,” according to the press release (2/23).

WHO Urging Afghans To Vaccinate Children For Measles Following Outbreak In Western Region

The WHO “is calling on all Afghans to vaccinate their children after a recent measles outbreak that has been made worse by severe weather that hampers access to immediate treatment as well as low immunization coverage,” the U.N. News Centre reports. At least “20 children have died due to measles and pneumonia in the western provinces of Ghor and Baghdis,” the news service notes (2/22). “As the outbreak has grown more serious, Afghan authorities and the WHO set up five temporary clinics and vaccinated more than 3,600 children in the outbreak zone, while treating more than 6,000 patients, health officials said,” according to the Los Angeles Times’ “World Now” blog (2/21).

UNICEF Warns 1M Children In Sahel At Risk Of Death, Disability Due To Malnutrition; Urges Donors To Provide $67M For Necessary Food Aid

UNICEF on Tuesday “warn[ed] an estimated one million young children in eight countries in the Sahel, who will suffer from severe acute malnutrition this year, are at risk of death or permanent disability” and “said … it urgently needs $67 million to provide special life-saving therapeutic feeding for these vulnerable children,” VOA News reports. With up to 23 million people in the region threatened with malnutrition caused by food shortages and drought, UNICEF spokesperson “Marixie Mercado says the crisis has not fully hit, so there still is time to prepare for it. But, in order to do that, she says, UNICEF urgently needs money to be able to put the needed supplies in place before time runs out,” VOA writes. So far, UNICEF has received $9 million of the $120 million needed this year for humanitarian assistance in the region, with $67 million needed now to procure ready-to-use therapeutic food for children, according to the news service (Schlein, 2/21).

Cholera Epidemic Spreads In DRC; Efforts To Combat Disease Remain Underfunded, U.N. Reports

“A cholera epidemic has spread to nine out of 11 provinces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United Nations said on Tuesday,” SAPA/News24 reports (Gold, 2/21). “Health authorities in the Republic of Congo have recorded 340 cases of cholera, nine of them fatal, since June 2011, in the northern district of Likouala, and have warned that the disease continues to spread and that some health centers lack sufficient treatment,” IRIN reports (2/21).

South Asia Makes Little Progress In Meeting Maternal, Child Mortality MDGs, U.N. Report Says

“South Asian nations are making the least progress in the Asia-Pacific region on meeting key development goals, which they pledged to achieve by 2015,” Bindu Lohani, vice president for sustainable development at the Asian Development Bank (ADB), said on Friday at the launch of a U.N. progress report on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Reuters reports (Bhalla, 2/19). The Asia-Pacific region already has reached the MDG of halving the incidence of poverty, “but still has high levels of hunger as well as child and maternal mortality,” the report said, according to Asian Scientist (2/21).

WHO Meeting Decides To Extend Moratorium On Bird Flu Research, Delay Full Publication Of Two Studies Detailing Lab-Modified Strains

A group of 22 public health and influenza experts reached a consensus on Friday at a WHO-convened meeting regarding the work of two research teams that created genetically altered strains of the H5N1 bird flu virus that are easily transmissible among ferrets, a laboratory model for humans, a WHO press release reports (2/17). “In December, the [U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity] asked two leading scientific journals, Nature and Science, to withhold details of the research for fear it could be used by bioterrorists,” Reuters writes, adding that on January 20, flu researchers also imposed a 60-day moratorium on continuing research using highly pathogenic strains (Nebehay/Kelland, 2/17). At the meeting, the group agreed to “extending the temporary moratorium on research with new laboratory-modified H5N1 viruses and recogni[zed] that research on naturally occurring H5N1 influenza virus must continue in order to protect public health,” the press release states, adding that they “also came to a consensus that delayed publication of the entire manuscripts would have more public health benefit than urgently partially publishing” (2/17).

India Still Faces Challenges In Efforts To Eradicate Polio

The PBS NewsHour examines polio eradication efforts in India, which has gone an entire year without reporting a polio case. “For India, the challenge is to remain vigilant and polio free for two more years to officially fall off the list of endemic countries,” according to the news service (De Sam Lazaro, 2/20). “The success in India has been achieved through a partnership between the Indian government, with support from the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary, UNICEF and with major contributions from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,” BBC News reports in an analysis of India’s success. “The global effort to eradicate polio is the biggest public health initiative in history. It has cost billions and has already stopped a huge amount of disability and many deaths,” but the disease remains endemic in three countries — Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan, the news service notes (Walsh, 2/19).

New York Times Profiles UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe

The New York Times profiles UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé, recounting some of his successes since becoming the head of the agency; quoting several colleagues about their experiences working with him; and providing a brief history of his family life, which he says helped him develop his diplomatic skills. “With a combination of bonhomie and persistence, he has delivered difficult messages to African presidents very persuasively in his three years in office,” the newspaper writes, adding, “Thanks, in part, to Mr. Sidibé’s intensive lobbying, South Africa and China are rapidly revising their approaches to the [AIDS] epidemic, and he hopes Russia and India soon will too.” The newspaper notes, “Globally, Mr. Sidibé says, he is trying to ‘be a voice for those without one'” (McNeil, 2/20).

MSF Warns Health, Living Conditions Of Refugees In Dadaab Camp Deteriorating

The medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) on Thursday said the conditions for hundreds of thousands of refugees living in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp are worsening and people there “are experiencing a ‘humanitarian emergency’ because of the scaling back of aid work,” Deutsche Presse-Agentur/M&C reports (2/16). MSF “said the health of refugees at the complex is deteriorating, with recent outbreaks of measles, cholera and acute diarrhea,” and said an estimated one in 12 children is malnourished, VOA News writes. “Most of the refugees at Dadaab are Somalis who fled last year’s severe drought or Somalia’s chronic conflict,” the news agency notes. MSF “called on the Kenyan government, international aid groups, and the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to provide ‘continuous support’ to the Dadaab camp, saying thousands of refugees are relying on their support,” according to the news agency (2/16).