WHO, Islamic Leaders Summit To Stop Polio Worker Attacks

Courtesy Of Channel Television:
Top World Health Organisation officials and Islamic leaders will meet in Egypt next week in an effort to stop attacks on polio workers, which are hampering the eradication of the virus in some countries with large Muslim populations.
“Shooting health workers who are protecting kids from this crippling disease is against the Koran and everything Islam stands for,” WHO’s Assistant Director-General Bruce Aylward told Reuters in Canberra said on Friday.

Gunmen in Pakistan and Nigeria have killed more than 20 health workers in the past three months in a series of attacks linked to a backlash against the immunization program against the crippling virus.

“Muslim leaders have been great advocates of immunization and generally the support has always been there. In Cairo, we are meeting senior Islamic leaders to get a sense of what we can do, and ask them how can you help us,” said Aylward.

The WHO has successfully eliminated polio from most nations after a 25-year campaign, but the crippling condition remains endemic in three nations, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria, where some influential Muslim leaders have opposed the program as a conspiracy of western medicine.

WHO remains on target to eradicate polio globally by 2018, Aylward said, despite a violent backlash from militant groups in Pakistan and Nigeria.

But there are also worrying signs of persistence, with the polio virus found in sewers in Cairo in January, with the type linked to the indigenous strain in Pakistan. Egypt has not had a case of polio since 2004.

Aylward said while the violence has forced the WHO to revise is approach to immunizations in both Pakistan and Nigeria.

“The goal is to put tools in the hands of the communities to immunize their own kids,” Aylward said.

“The overall risks (of contracting polio) are getting smaller, because we are finally getting into some of these difficult places,” he said.

Since 1988, the WHO has cut the number of global polio cases from 350,000 to just 225 in 2012, with India declared polio free in January 2012.

Why polio just became a global health crisis!

Another interesting piece on Polio Eradication to share.

Though only 650 cases were recorded last year, the World Health Organization declared the disease an emergency, but its importance goes beyond public health.

Few people probably associate the phrase “global health emergency” with polio, a disease that has been around for 5000 years and is on a decades-long decline so steep that there are less than a thousand recorded cases left on Earth, and it no longer even seems real to many in the developed world. “Global health emergency” might sound applicable to HIV/AIDS, malaria, or cancer, but polio?

And yet, that is exactly what happened late last Friday afternoon in Geneva, when the World Health Assembly, the governing body of the World Health Organization, declared polio a public health emergency, calling for the 194 member states to fully fund the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, and fill the currently $945 million gap in its budget for 2012-13. But this is about much more than just filling a budget shortfall: polio’s threat is still very real, and the mission to finally stamp it out forever is a crucial one for reasons even bigger than the disease itself.

Since the world decided to come together to eradicate polio in 1988, the disease has been almost entirely eliminated. It killed or paralysed more than 350,000 children each year in the 1980s, but there were just 650 recorded cases in 2011. In January, India celebrated its first polio-free year in history, leaving the disease endemic in just three countries: Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The latest figures from the World Health Organization show only 60 cases so far in 2012.

But polio is a different type of emergency than the ones we usually hear about in the news. Its biggest danger isn’t the current number of cases, but the implications for failure: not only because a failure to eradicate could allow for a resurgence that could kill or disable thousands of children each year, but because of what it holds for the effectiveness of our global health systems itself.

Part of the risk has to do with money. Over the past quarter century, $9.5 billion has already been spent on polio eradication, driven by international organizations — primarily the WHO and UNICEF — as well as private donors such as the Gates Foundation and Rotary. The WHO’s strategic advisory group of experts on immunization have said that failure to eradicate polio would be “the most expensive public health failure in history.” A failure to make all that money achieve its intended goal could make it tougher to solicit donations from countries and individuals for future eradication campaigns.

The other element is symbolic. In a sense, polio will be a marker of either what the world can or cannot achieve in global health. “If we finish polio eradication, what it will prove is that with a relatively modest investment in the grand scheme of things, you can achieve real health outcomes,” says Bruce Aylward, the Canadian epidemiologist who heads the WHO’s eradication efforts.

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The Global Polio Eradication Initiative

It was in 1988 at the 41st World Health Assembly (WHA), comprising of delegates from 166 member countries that a resolution for the worldwide Polio eradication was adopted. Considered as a milestone, it marked the launch of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative under the leadership of the WHO and supported by US CDC, Rotary International and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). This followed the certification of the eradication of smallpox in 1980, progress during the 1980s towards elimination of the poliovirus in the Americas, and Rotary International’s commitment to raise funds to protect all children from the disease. The launch of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative resulted in significant drop in the number of polio cases (> 99 per cent) seen across the globe.

In Nigeria, the northern part f the country has persistently been reporting pockets of polio virus transmission. Furthermore, there are also reported cases of the polio virus along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan and these areas still remain key epidemiological challenges towards eradication of the polio virus. In the case of India, there is sustained level of commitment and if such is maintained, indicators has it that a milestone could be reached within the first quarter of 2012.

It is possible to achieve total polio eradication within the remaining 3 countries especially considering the fact that:

• In 1994, WHO certified 36 countries of the Americas as polio-free,
• In 2000, WHO certified 37 countries in the Western Pacific region including China in and
• In 2002, WHO certified 51 countries in the European region.

With a hind-sight, 2010 was a year when the European region suffered its first importation of polio (after its certification) and in 2011 was a reported case of imported polio in the Western Pacific region.
In my next blog post, I hope to discuss the objectives and strategies of the PEI.