Apr 30, 2015

Polio eradicators hail historic progress, aim to 'finish the job'


Afghan child receives polio vaccination drops during an anti-polio campaign in Kabul
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An Afghan child receives polio vaccination drops during an anti-polio campaign in Kabul March 24, 2014. …
By Kate Kelland
LONDON, April 30 (Reuters) - The world is closer than ever to being able to wipe out polio, international experts said on Thursday, with zero cases of the crippling disease recorded across all of Africa this year and fewer than 25 globally.
Polio eradication specialists are wary of claiming premature success and warn complacency could prove the project's downfall, but with only two countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan, reporting polio cases in 2015, they see an end in sight.
"We've never been in a better place to hold hopes of being able to eradicate this disease once and for all," said Peter Crowley of the United Nations children's fund UNICEF.
Jay Wenger, head of polio eradication at the Gates Foundation, told reporters: "The progress is very impressive. We're looking forward to finishing the job."
"We don't think we can declare victory, but we've never gone anywhere near this long without any wild polio virus being found in Nigeria or in Africa as a whole," he said on a telephone briefing with experts from the World Health Organization (WHO), the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) and the U.S. Centres of Disease Prevention and Control.
Polio is a viral disease that invades the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis within hours. It can spread rapidly, particularly among children and especially in unsanitary conditions in war-torn regions, refugee camps and areas where healthcare is limited.
In 1988, when the GPEI was formed to lead a battle to wipe it out, polio was endemic in 125 countries and paralyzed nearly 1,000 children a day. Since then, thanks to huge vaccination campaigns, there has been a more than 99 percent global reduction in cases. 
But the WHO's repeated warning is that as long as any child anywhere remains infected with polio, all children are at risk.
Latest global data show just 23 polio cases reported so far in 2015 -- 22 in Pakistan and one in Afghanistan. That compares to a year-to-date total of 54 cases worldwide in 2014, and a 2014 annual count of 306.
Wenger said the success in Nigeria, which has not seen a single polio case for eight months, was largely due to political will from national, regional and local government.
The experts said progress against polio remains fragile, particularly since it is in regions vulnerable to instability. In 2013, polio re-emerged in Syria after a 14-year absence, prompting a vast and expensive regional vaccination campaign.
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Apr 28, 2015



The extensive polio-eradication infrastructure created by Rotary, its partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), and governments and health ministries provides a model for saving millions of people from vaccine-preventable deaths. 
Photo Credit: Rotary International/Alyce Henson
This year's observance of , 24-30 April, signals a renewed effort to prevent an estimated 2 to 3 million deaths worldwide from vaccine-preventable diseases, including polio, by closing immunization gaps. The extensive polio-eradication infrastructure created by Rotary, its partners in the , and governments and health ministries provides a model for this effort.
Rotary, the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) joined together in 1988 to form GPEI with the goal of protecting the world's children by . At that time, the disease paralyzed more than 1,000 people -- most of them young children – worldwide every day. Over the years, Rotary and  have reduced the number of polio cases by 99 percent, to fewer than 400 cases in 2014, and there are now only three countries in which polio transmission has never been stopped.
This progress has been won by millions of volunteers and health workers who immunize children in hard-to-reach communities and establish real-time global monitoring and response capacity. The massive infrastructure that's been created, which now encompasses millions of trained health workers as well as best practices and knowledge, can be used to combat other infectious diseases and to undertake other critical health interventions.
"Rotarians have played a key role in bringing the world to the cusp of polio eradication," says Mike McGovern, chair of Rotary's International PolioPlus Committee. "They have contributed more than $1.3 billion to polio eradication, they have petitioned their governments to support the cause, and they have donated countless hours to immunize children throughout the world. These achievements have laid the groundwork for a lasting legacy for the world's children."
Rotary and its partners are looking to carry out a legacy health plan, which has two notable aspects:
Ensuring that the knowledge generated and lessons learned from years of polio eradication activities are shared with other health initiatives.
GPEI, in its efforts to deliver the polio vaccine to the hardest-to-reach and most vulnerable populations in the world, has learned valuable lessons about overcoming barriers. As a result, polio workers have been able to deliver additional health services, including deworming medication, vitamin A supplements, measles mortality-reduction activities, bednets to prevent malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases, and routine immunizations. GPEI's innovative methods include detailed micro-planning and mapping, the tracking of migrant groups, social mobilization programs, and systematic training and deployment of vaccination teams. All of these tactics can be applied to other health initiatives.
Indeed, supporting other health initiatives has been a key component of Rotary's strategy since it . Rotary has consistently delivered the "plus" along with polio vaccine, supporting efforts to protect children from other diseases, malnutrition, and other afflictions.
Transitioning the capacities, processes, and assets that GPEI has created to support other health priorities.
GPEI receives regular polio reports from its vast surveillance network of laboratories, which identify and investigate reported polio cases anywhere in the world. That network and response system has been tapped to handle outbreaks of other diseases, including measles, tetanus, meningitis, and yellow fever. It also assisted in the global response to the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS; to floods in Pakistan in 2010-11; and to the tsuami in Southeast Asia in 2004. Most recently,  and surveillance system last year to end the deadly Ebola outbreak there.
"For 30 years, Rotarians have worked tirelessly to eradicate polio from 99 percent of the world," says McGovern. "Their efforts have not only ended polio in 122 countries but they've also created a roadmap for the world to tackle a myriad of other health priorities. This is something all Rotarians can be proud of accomplishing."
WHO's World Health Assembly will review a Global Legacy Framework at its meeting in May. In the meantime, Rotary members and the public can get involved by supporting Rotary's polio program as it carries out the final steps to eradicate this disease. Donate, and learn more at .
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