In its ongoing series examining efforts to eradicate polio, NPR’s “All Things Considered” on Thursday examined India’s continuing efforts to stamp out the disease, noting the country “marked a milestone when the World Health Organization struck it from the list of polio-endemic countries in February after no new cases were reported for more than a year.” The news service writes, “During national campaigns, which occur twice a year, two million volunteers fan out to India’s train stations, bus depots, temples, churches and mosques, armed with vials of polio vaccine.” NPR adds, “India has 175 million children aged five and younger, and all of them are tiny targets in this massive national immunization project that, since January 2011, has made India free of a disease that has afflicted it for millennia.” The news service notes the country “must remain polio-free for three years before the WHO will certify that India has eradicated polio” (McCarthy, 10/18).
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).
Number Of New TB Infections Fall, But Drug Resistance, Lack Of Funding Could Slow Progress, WHO Reports
“New tuberculosis [TB] infections dropped 2.2 percent worldwide last year, but with nearly nine million new infections, the World Health Organization said TB remains a massive problem that could worsen if countries shortchange funding to fight it,” Reuters reports (Steenhuysen, 10/17). “In a new report issued Wednesday, the U.N. agency estimated there were about 8.7 million new cases of TB last year, down from about 8.8 million in 2010,” and “[t]he number of deaths was unchanged at about 1.4 million — making it the second-leading killer among infectious diseases after AIDS,” the Associated Press writes (Cheng, 10/17). “The number of people becoming ill with tuberculosis has been falling steadily for roughly a decade after a surge in the 1990s,” but “those numbers are still huge, and only 19 percent of those infected with forms of the disease that are resistant to multiple tuberculosis drugs are being diagnosed, the WHO estimated,” according to the Wall Street Journal (McKay, 10/18). BBC News notes the report “warned of ‘persistently slow progress’ in treating tuberculosis which is resistant to antibiotics” (Gallagher, 10/17).
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).
“Researchers will find out early next year whether the first new vaccine against tuberculosis [TB] for 90 years protects against a disease that was once neglected but is now resurgent worldwide,” Financial Times reports. “Helen McShane, professor of vaccinology at Oxford University, said on Monday that clinical trial results of the MVA85A vaccine — developed in her laboratory over 10 years at a cost of Â£30 million [$48 million] — would be known in the first quarter of 2013,” the newspaper writes (Cookson, 10/15). “Today, most babies in the world are immunized with the old Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine, first used in 1921,” PlusNews/IRIN writes. “Oxford’s vaccine, known as MVA85A, is designed to boost the effects of BCG,” the news service adds (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).
In a post in Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists” blog, Seth Berkley, CEO of the GAVI Alliance, examines “the contribution the Japanese people have made to immunization.” “For the last six years, they have been buying bonds sold by the International Finance Facility for Immunization (IFFIm), and the money they invest has been used by GAVI to buy vaccine bonds for the poorest countries in the world,” he writes, adding, “In all, the Japanese have purchased the equivalent of nearly $2 billion in IFFIm vaccine bonds since 2006” (10/10).
The Financial Times has published a special report (.pdf) on neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) featuring 10 articles examining issues including prevention, research, and treatment.
UNICEF and the Syrian government have agreed to expand humanitarian efforts in the country, where tens of thousands of people have been killed and up to one million people displaced since the beginning of an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad 18 months ago, Reuters reports. UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake “said the agency’s agreement with Syria will allow it to go beyond its Damascus operations to reach Syrians in conflict areas” and the agency “aims to vaccinate within a couple of months one million vulnerable children against diseases such as measles, he added,” the news service notes. “The deal will expand UNICEF’s partnership with more than 40 Syrian civil groups and the Syrian Red Crescent, he said,” Reuters adds (Al-Khalidi, 10/8). U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “on Tuesday urged President Bashar al-Assad’s government to institute a unilateral ceasefire, and further stressed the need for other nations to halt arms deliveries to both Syrian forces and the opposition,” according to VOA’s “Breaking News” blog (10/9).