“Polio will never be eradicated in Pakistan until a way is found to persuade poor Pashtuns to embrace the vaccine, according to a study released by the World Health Organization” in its November bulletin, the New York Times reports. A survey of 1,017 parents of young children living in “Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city and the only big city in the world where polio persists, … found that 41 percent had never heard of polio and 11 percent refused to vaccinate their children against it,” according to the newspaper. Some parents from poor families “cited lack of permission from family elders,” Anita Zaidi, a professor at the Aga Khan University in Karachi, said, adding some wealthy parents said the vaccine was “harmful or unnecessary,” the newspaper notes. “Pashtuns account for 75 percent of Pakistan’s polio cases even though they are only 15 percent of the population,” the newspaper adds, noting poorer children are at a higher risk because they are more likely to be exposed to raw sewage, where the virus travels. According to the New York Times, “the eradication drive is recruiting Pashtuns as vaccinators and asking prominent religious leaders from various sects to make videos endorsing the vaccine” (McNeil, 11/5).
“Four in five children (83 percent) worldwide received the recommended three doses of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP) vaccine during infancy in 2011, according to new data released in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report and in the WHO Weekly Epidemiological Record (WER),” a WHO media note reports. According to the media note, “While substantial progress has been made, the new data show more than 22 million children, mostly living in less-developed countries, missed out on the three basic vaccinations during their first year of life in 2011” (11/1).
KPLU 88.5’s “Humanosphere” blog reports on a meeting of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN), “the world’s largest HIV vaccine research network,” held in Seattle this week. “We actually don’t know what the agenda is,” HVTN Executive Director Jim Kublin said during a lecture, titled “Scientific Agenda, the Next Seven Years,” according to the blog. “But what makes it easier to laugh about not knowing where you’re going, he added, is that researchers today have a lot more tantalizing clues — beginning with the ground-breaking Thai vaccine trial known to this bunch as RV144,” the blog writes and describes the study (Paulson, 10/31).
“Afghanistan is taking steps to improve its routine immunization coverage, after a drop in coverage led to a sharp increase in measles outbreaks last year, killing more than 300 children,” IRIN reports. “Experts say nearly 30 percent of the population has no or very poor access to primary health care, including immunization, and the percentage is estimated to be as high as 70 percent in areas of conflict in the south,” the news service writes, adding “decreasing vaccination coverage [is] due to rising insecurity, decreased access, difficult terrain and harsh winters,” as well as last year’s severe drought. “In the National Priority Programmes, which outline government priorities until 2015, the government admits many vaccinators lack initial training, and that budget shortages in past years prevented supervisory and monitoring visits by provincial level management teams,” IRIN states, adding that the WHO this year has implemented training programs and, along with UNICEF and the Ministry of Health, has combined the measles and polio vaccination campaigns to better utilize resources (11/1).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday released a 268-page annual report that “profiles a wide range of CDC influenza-related projects around the world, from flu surveillance in Indonesia to vaccine effectiveness studies in El Salvador and epidemiology training in Ghana,” CIDRAP News reports. The report also “describes the CDC’s collaborations with the World Health Organization (WHO), outlines projects it supports in about 40 countries, … describes specific studies undertaken in many of those countries,” “lists international training conferences it has sponsored, and describes the CDC program for sharing diagnostic test kits and reagents,” the news service writes. “Over the past six years the [international] program has undergone remarkable growth and has expanded to provide support to over 40 countries, all WHO regional offices and WHO headquarters,” the report notes, according to CIDRAP. “The report, covering 2011, is the third annual account of the agency’s global flu activities, which have expanded greatly in the past decade,” the news service adds (Roos, 10/30).
While there is “much to be proud of” in the progress in the fight against polio, “there’s still more work to be done,” former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin writes in a GlobalPost opinion piece. Martin, a polio survivor, notes that in 1988, when the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was launched, 350,000 cases in more than 125 countries were recorded annually, but “[s]o far this year, we’ve seen just 171 cases, and only Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria have never stopped transmission.” He continues, “Canada has been a leader in this fight,” but “[t]he credit for this progress, of course, goes far beyond Canada” to “the work of global partners like the World Health Organization, UNICEF, Rotary International and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; the frontline workers whose tireless efforts make all of this possible; and the countries that are making the political and financial commitments necessary to see the end of this disease.”
“The world is on the verge of a great success story: the eradication of polio,” John Hewko, CEO and general secretary of Rotary International, and Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and special adviser to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, write in the Huffington Post’s “Global Motherhood” blog. But “[t]here is still ground to cover,” they continue. “Even though the current cases of polio transmission number less than 200 so far this year, the case for finishing the job — getting to zero — is more crucial than ever,” they write, adding, “If polio is fully eradicated, it can’t ever return. On the other hand, if even a few cases persist, and the world lets its guard down, those few cases could become the start of a new epidemic.”
In its ongoing series examining efforts to eradicate polio, NPR health editor Joe Neel and Jason Beaubien, a global health and development correspondent for the news service, on Thursday spoke with “Talk of the Nation” host Neil Conan about obstacles to stamping out polio in the three countries where the disease persists — Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria. According to the transcript, they discuss how “[o]bstacles in each country, including religious extremism, difficult terrain and transient populations, make eradication efforts difficult” (10/25).
The following opinion pieces were published on Wednesday in recognition of World Polio Day, observed annually on October 24.
To mark World Polio Day, the New York Times’ “India Ink” blog features an interview with Naveen Thacker, a member of the team that led India’s polio eradication efforts. The country has not recorded a new case of polio since January 2011 and is in line to be declared polio-free in January 2014 if no new cases occur, according to the blog. Thacker said “strong leadership and political support at every level of government,” including public-private partnerships, were critical to eradication efforts, the blog notes. “To remain polio-free we must ensure the maintenance of our highly sensitive surveillance system, so that we can detect outbreaks early, and we must also sustain high levels of polio immunization through routine immunization,” Thacker said, adding, “Globally, we’ve made amazing progress, but 99 percent reduction in polio cases isn’t good enough. We need to finish the job,” according to the blog (Raina, 10/24).