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).
“Global health programs now teeter on the edge of disaster,” Foreign Affairs writes in this feature article, adding, “The world economic crisis and the politics of debt reduction are threatening everything from malaria control and AIDS treatment to well-baby programs and health care worker training efforts.” The article provides a historical overview of global health programming and funding. “Like it or not, the burden of reducing suffering and increasing the health of the world’s poor now falls largely on the backs of the two Washingtons,” Foreign Affairs writes, referring to politicians in Washington and the Washington state-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The article concludes, “It would be a catastrophe were the ‘age of generosity’ to end so soon after it began, leaving millions without life-sparing medicines and tools they have come to rely upon” (Garrett, 5/6).
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).
“Last month, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon convened a group of global leaders, including [Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Co-Chair] Bill Gates and heads of state of polio-affected countries, to renew the commitment to eliminate polio,” William Keenan, executive director of the International Pediatric Association, and Robert Block, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, note in the Huffington Post’s “Global Motherhood” blog. “This show of solidarity reminds us that the fight is not finished,” they write, and continue, “Armed with effective vaccines, pediatricians, partner organizations and front-line workers around the globe have eliminated 99 percent of all new polio cases.” They state, “We can’t afford to lose sight of this remaining one percent of polio cases.”
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.”
“Pakistan is set to become the first country in south Asia to introduce the pneumococcal vaccine to protect children against pneumonia, one of the biggest killers of children under five in the developing world,” the Guardian reports, noting, “The program is due to be announced by the country’s prime minister, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, on Tuesday, signaling clear political commitment from the Pakistani government in rolling out the vaccine.” The country’s expanded program on immunization (EPI) is introducing the vaccine in conjunction with the GAVI Alliance, UNICEF, and WHO, the newspaper adds. “In Pakistan, more than 423,000 children die before reaching their fifth birthday, and almost one in five of these deaths is due to pneumonia,” according to the Guardian, which notes, “The new pneumococcal vaccine is expected to prevent a significant proportion of pneumonia cases, and has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives” (Tran, 10/9).
The Financial Times has published a special report (.pdf) on neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) featuring 10 articles examining issues including prevention, research, and treatment.
Writing in the Global Bioethics Blog, Stuart Rennie, a bioethics researcher and professor, notes another polio worker was killed in Pakistan last week and describes Taliban opposition to U.S.-supported polio vaccination efforts in Pakistan. “For its part, the Taliban argues that U.S. efforts to eradicate polio in Pakistan contradict U.S. efforts to combat terrorism in the region, more specifically its campaign of drone strikes,” he states, adding, “As Taliban officials argue, many more Pakistanis — including women and children not involved in terrorist activity — have died or been injured (psychologically and otherwise) from drone strikes than have died or are likely to die from polio.” He continues, “When you can see the point in a Taliban ethical argument, the world is a dark place.” Rennie concludes, “The eradication of polio is of global interest: it is important that it joins smallpox in the tiny category of eliminated infectious diseases, while we still have the chance” (10/21).
“Over 70,000 health workers and community volunteers were combing the streets and jungle paths in Sierra Leone Friday at the start of a vaccination program targeting young children in the West African country,” Agence France-Presse reports. “The four-day vaccination drive dubbed ‘Kick polio out of Sierra Leone’ is focusing on some 1.3 million children under the age of five,” the news service writes, adding, “The health ministry’s program manager, Dr. Thomas Samba, who is coordinating the initiative told AFP: ‘The vaccination exercise in Sierra Leone is being undertaken simultaneously with eight other ECOWAS states — Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Niger, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Mali’” (10/20).
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).