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Afghanistan, U.N. Agencies Working To Improve Routine Immunization As Winter Approaches

“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).

CDC Report Outlines International Influenza Activities

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).

Political Will, Funding Needed For Successful Polio Eradication Initiative

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.”

Polio Eradication Efforts Helping To Improve Other Health Indicators

“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.”

NPR Series On Polio Examines Obstacles To Eradicating Disease In Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria

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).

New York Times Blog Features Interview With Indian Polio Expert

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).

World Polio Day Time To Celebrate, Give Thanks

October 24 “is World Polio Day, a day to celebrate the remarkable progress we’ve made in the fight against polio and to focus on the urgency of the work we still have to do,” Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, writes in “The Gates Notes” blog. “But equally important, it’s also a day to say ‘thank you’ to the millions of people around the world who have generously given their time and money to this critical effort,” he continues, and features a video thanking the different organizations working together to bring an end to polio. “To ensure success, we need to fully fund polio campaigns and routine immunizations”; “continued leadership and accountability”; and “ensure the security of vaccination teams so they can get to children — even in the most difficult areas,” Gates writes (10/24). In a post on the Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists” blog, Jay Wenger, head of the polio program at the foundation, lists five reasons why he’s “excited” about World Polio Day. “It’s really because I have seen an unprecedented series of successes, commitment from existing and new donors and signs of progress that give me confidence we can finish the job,” he writes (10/23).

Special Issue Of Global Polio Eradication Initiative News Bulletin Recognizes World Polio Day

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative has published a special issue of its “Polio News” bulletin in recognition of World Polio Day on October 24. The issue includes several articles examining global eradication efforts and calls for readers to become a part of the day by joining “the world’s biggest commercial” or by downloading an action pack (October 2012).

Fewer Families Refusing Polio Vaccination In Pakistan, But Many Still Not Immunized, Officials Say

Though Pakistani officials said Monday there has been a significant decline in the number of families refusing polio vaccination in the country, almost a half million children did not receive the immunization, Agence France-Presse reports. “The number of refusing families has declined (44 percent) from 80,330 during the first national polio round held in January to 45,122 in October,” according to a joint statement from the WHO, the U.N., and the Pakistani government, the news agency writes. “The success achieved notwithstanding, every unvaccinated child constitutes a major challenge,” Elias Durry, WHO senior coordinator for polio eradication, said, according to the news agency. Shahnaz Wazir Ali, a senior adviser to the prime minister, said, “We need to take adequate steps to ensure that the number of children missed for reasons other than refusals is also brought down,” AFP writes. Polio remains endemic in Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan, where 30 cases have been recorded so far this year, the news agency notes (10/22).

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