“The brutal assassination of nine grassroots level health workers in Pakistan, who were involved in a door-to-door immunization campaign in an attempt to secure children from crippling polio, adds an unprecedentedly grave dimension to the ongoing carnage in Pakistan,” Sania Nishtar, founder of Heartfile, Heartfile Health Financing, and the recently launched Sania Nishtar Health Fund, writes in an opinion piece in the Huffington Post U.K.’s “Impact” blog. “[T]he occurrence has deep-seated implications for the global drive to eliminate an infectious disease for a second time from this planet,” she continues, adding, “Additionally, it illustrates the nature of polarization, mistrust and extremism, which has crept into the Pakistani society, posing challenges on many fronts, beyond public health.”
“Measles cases surged in Pakistan in 2012, and hundreds of children died from the disease, an international health body said Tuesday,” the Associated Press/CBS News reports. “A spokeswoman for the World Health Organization, Maryam Yunus, said that 306 children died in Pakistan of measles in 2012, compared to 64 the year before,” the news agency writes (1/2). “She added that most of the children who died were from districts affected by floods for the past three years, and that malnourishment was a major reason for the high rate of measles deaths in Sindh,” GlobalPost writes (Langlois, 1/1).
“Thanks to a herculean effort by health advocates, 78 percent of children in low-income countries receive the basic set of childhood vaccines, covering diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, hepatitis B and haemophilus influenza,” a Bloomberg View editorial states. However, “[t]his campaign will be disrupted, and lives lost, if immunization critics win their latest battle for an international ban on a vaccine component” — thimerosal, a mercury-containing organic compound — “that has proved to be safe time and time again,” the editorial writes, noting, “Groups such as the Coalition for Mercury-Free Drugs and the Coalition for SafeMinds are pressing their case before the United Nations Environmental Program [UNEP] meets on Jan. 13 to prepare a global treaty reducing mercury use.”
GAVI Alliance Audit Expressed ‘Serious Concerns Of Misuse Of GAVI Funds’ In Sierra Leone, Reuters Reports
The GAVI Alliance “has put on hold some $6 million earmarked for Sierra Leone after an audit showed misuse of previous funds, a document seen by Reuters showed,” Reuters reports. “The leaked letter from the GAVI Alliance dated November 15, 2012, and addressed to Sierra Leone’s health minister says an in-depth audit revealed ‘serious concerns of misuse of GAVI funds’ totaling $1,099,640,” the news agency writes, adding, “A GAVI spokesman said the irregularities, which included undocumented expenses, cash disbursements with no documentation and overcharged procurement costs, occurred from 2008 until 2012.”
Pakistan Reports 9th Death In Polio Worker Attacks, Resumes Vaccination Campaign Under Police Escort
“Another victim from attacks on U.N.-backed anti-polio teams in Pakistan died on Thursday, bringing the three-day death toll in the wave of assaults on volunteers vaccinating children across the country to nine, officials said,” the Associated Press reports (Khan, 12/20). “Four female health workers were killed in Karachi, shot dead by masked men on motorbikes. The other five victims, including a 17-year-old volunteer, were slain in Peshawar and Charsadda,” Inter Press Service notes (Yusufzai/Ebrahim, 12/20). The attacks “indicate a threat not only to workers but also to the effort to eradicate the disease — locally and globally,” Scientific American’s “Observations” blog adds (Harmon, 12/20).
The following blog posts were published in response to a series of attacks against polio workers in Pakistan this week, which have left eight dead since Monday.
“U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is calling the killing of health workers trying to vaccinate Pakistani children against polio in a U.N.-backed campaign ‘cruel, senseless and inexcusable,'” the Associated Press reports, noting, “Ban said at his year-end news conference [on Wednesday] that the eight killed were among thousands across Pakistan ‘working selflessly to achieve the historic goal of polio eradication'” (12/19). Similarly, “[t]he World Health Organization and UNICEF in their statements have expressed their strong commitment and support to the Government of Pakistan and the people of Pakistan in their efforts to rid the country of polio and other diseases,” Pakistan Today writes (12/19).
“Nigeria is one of only three countries — along with Afghanistan and Pakistan — that remains blighted by polio,” Aliko Dangote, founder and CEO of the Dangote Group and chair of the Dangote Foundation, writes in a Project Syndicate opinion piece. He notes Nigeria is “one of Africa’s most developed countries,” “the largest recipient of foreign direct investment in Africa,” home to “thriving Nigerian businesses,” and “will soon surpass South Africa to become Africaâ€™s largest economy.” However, “Nigerians cannot hope to lead Africa, economically or otherwise, while neglecting to eliminate preventable diseases like polio,” he writes.
“Three workers in a polio eradication campaign were shot in Pakistan on Wednesday, and two of them were killed, the latest in an unprecedented string of attacks over the past three days that has partially halted the U.N.-backed campaign,” Reuters reports (Ahmad, 12/19). “Earlier on Tuesday, five health workers involved in the vaccination drive were killed in the cities of Karachi and Peshawar,” News Pakistan notes (12/19). Another health care worker was killed on Monday, according to a statement issued Tuesday by the WHO, UNICEF and the Pakistani and provincial governments, which condemned the multiple attacks. “We call on the leaders of the affected communities and everyone concerned to do their utmost to protect health workers and create a secure environment so that we can meet the health needs of the children of Pakistan,” the statement said (12/18). The Associated Press reports the WHO suspended the vaccination campaign in two of the country’s provinces (Khan, 12/19). However, CNN reports the “attacks prompted authorities to suspend the campaign throughout the country” (Khan, 12/19). “Under the canceled program, Pakistani health officials planned to administer millions of ‘polio drops’ to immunize people,” according to International Business Times, which adds, “The program involved 25,000 workers targeting more than 30 million children” (Ghosh, 12/18).
In a Huffington Post “Impact” blog post, Tom Murphy, founder of the development blog “A View From The Cave,” examines Rwanda’s efforts to reduce cancer incidence by implementing screening programs for breast and cervical cancers and vaccinating girls and young women for human papillomavirus (HPV), the leading cause of cervical cancer. Discussing the new programs, Minister of Health Agnes Bingawaho said, “We are a government that is evidence-based and result-oriented. … We always go for a policy first — the science in front of everything. We develop a strategy plan, followed by an implementation plan and then fundraise,” according to Murphy. He discusses Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s push for accountability within the government, the U.N. General Assembly’s resolution recognizing non-communicable diseases as a global problem, and efforts by Merck and the GAVI Alliance to vaccinate more girls against HPV (12/18).