Nov 10, 2015

It’s Been 1 Year Since Africa Has Had Any New Polio Cases


Tuesday marks one year since Africa has had any new polio cases, a monumental step toward the continent being completely rid of the disease.
Since a case was recorded in Somalia a year ago, there has been no evidence of any new incidents, an accomplishment advocates attribute to a collaborative, multi-tiered effort, UNICEF noted. Volunteers, religious leaders, health workers and government agencies have banded together to bring vaccines to rural areas and to dispel myths associated with getting the shots.
<span class='image-component__caption' itemprop="caption">A Somali baby is given a polio vaccination before being given a pentavalent vaccine injection at a medical clinic in Mogadishu on April 24, 2013. </span>CARL DE SOUZA/ GETTY IMAGESA Somali baby is given a polio vaccination before being given a pentavalent vaccine injection at a medical clinic in Mogadishu on April 24, 2013. 
Polio mainly affects children under 5 years and can lead to irreversible paralysis and death in some cases when breathing becomes compromised, according to the World Health Organization.
The disease has never been stopped in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Nigeria, according to NPR.
While Somalia has had its hopeful moments over the years, the disease hasn’t yet been completely wiped out.
After three polio-free years, the disease resurfaced in 2005 in Somalia with 185 confirmed cases, and smaller outbreaks the following three years, according to UNICEF.
In 2008 there was an outbreak in Jonglei State, close to the border with Ethiopia.
“It is hard to describe the isolation of this place — an area of marshes, vast cotton-soil plains that become impassable after rains, and an area that has long been plagued by insecurity,” Peter Crowley, head of UNICEF’s polio unit, wrote in a blog post.
Yet, despite such challenges, the outbreak was contained and the area has not experienced a new case since.
<span class='image-component__caption' itemprop="caption">An Ethiopian Somali boy with polio receives medical treatment at a health post in Bisle in the drought-stricken remote Somali region of Eastern Ethiopia.</span>LUC VAN KEMENADE/ASSOCIATED PRESSAn Ethiopian Somali boy with polio receives medical treatment at a health post in Bisle in the drought-stricken remote Somali region of Eastern Ethiopia.
To effectively protect Somalians from the disease, advocates have looked to religious leaders to urge their congregants to get vaccinated.
Some parents resisted getting their children vaccinated, saying that it conflicted with their religious beliefs.
But in 2007, the country saw a major breakthrough when 40 religious leaders from North East Somalia declared their support for polio prevention efforts.
“We agree with the conclusions of the doctors,” Hagi Ali Ahmed, a sheikh from Puntland, said in a statement. “Rumors were wrong. Religious leaders must create awareness in all mosques and among the community.”
Nigeria is also on its way to becoming polio-free.
July marked a year since the country had recorded any new polio cases, NPR reported.
There, health workers also contended with deleterious pushback.
Vaccinators were periodically attacked and killed because religious leaders believed their work to be part of a Western plot to sterilize Muslim children.
<span class='image-component__caption' itemprop="caption">Children wait to receive polio vaccine in Kawo Kano, Nigeria.</span>SUNDAY ALAMBA/ASSOCIATED PRESSChildren wait to receive polio vaccine in Kawo Kano, Nigeria.
While health workers have made extraordinary gains in assuaging suspicions in Nigeria and Somalia, religious leaders have recently grown wary of vaccine campaigns in Kenya.
The country’s Conference of Catholic Bishops recently boycotted WHO’s polio vaccine campaign until it can verify that there is no presence of estrogen in the shots, NPR reported. Dr. Wahome Ngare of the Kenyan Catholic Doctor’s Association accused the organization of introducing female hormone that could sterilize children.
Though health workers and advocates are celebrating Somalia’s latest polio milestone, they’re not at ease just yet.
It will take another two years before the country can officially declare itself polio-free.
“While today’s milestone is extraordinary, it is not an endpoint,” Crowley said. “Nigeria and the many other African countries that remain at risk for polio must maintain high-quality surveillance, work ever-harder to improve the quality of vaccination campaigns and act decisively, should further outbreaks occur.”

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Nov 9, 2015

Polio May Be Eradicated by 2018

In just three years, the scourge of polio may be gone forever from our planet.
Phil PlaitPHIL PLAIT
Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  
This is incredible news. Polio, or more officially poliomyelitis, is a horrible virus that paralyzes 1 in 200 people infected, and kills 5–10 percent of them when it immobilizes the muscles needed to breathe. Put more simply, the virus causes these victims to slowly suffocate.
Mind you, the vast majority of victims are younger than 5.
Polio has been around for centuries at least, but the advent of world travel spread it across the globe. In the U.S., there were 20,000 reported cases of permanent paralysis due to polio in 1952 alone. A vaccine was introduced in 1955 (and an oral version in 1961). What happened next is a triumph of medical science: By 1965 there were fewer than 100 cases in the U.S., and by 1973, fewer than 10.
The U.S. was declared polio-free in 1994.
Numbers globally have dropped precipitously as well, from 350,000 cases in 1988 down to just a few hundred today. The only two countries that have polio in the wild currently are Afghanistan and Pakistan (down from 125 countries in 1988); Nigeria had cases in 2014, but there have been none in 2015.
Polio is transmitted primarily through oral-fecal contact and to a lesser extent through contaminated water; once someone is infected, there is no way to stop the virus.
So then how did polio’s numbers drop so dramatically? Exactly how’d you think: vaccines.
To be more specific, a globally focused and well-organized campaign to vaccinate children around the planet called the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. This wonderful project started in 1988 as a collaboration between multiple nations, and its goal is simple: “To banish polio to the history books.” And they’ve been extremely effective.
Because of the aggressive campaign, it’s expected that the last cases of polio seen in the wild will happen sometime in the next two to three years. The World Health Organization is so confident about this that it actually has what’s called the Polio Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan, a strategy on how to make the world polio-free by 2018.
That’s extraordinary. This has only happened once before in history, when smallpox was eliminated in 1977. Smallpox killed hundreds of millions of people, and now it’s gone, wiped clean off the face of the planet.
Why? Again: vaccines.
This is why I consider vaccines to be one of the very best medical health innovations in human history, if not the best.
Of course, there are people who think vaccines are unmitigated evil, themselves the cause of diseases and neurological disorders. These anti-vaxxers are gravely mistaken; we know for sure vaccines don’t cause autism and are a huge medical success story. I wonder how many of these folks have looked a polio victim (or someone who was blinded by measles, or grieving parents who just lost an infant to pertussis) in the eye and told them how dangerous they think vaccines are*.

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Of course, some repellent people have. But I hope, like the diseases themselves, their numbers are on the decline.
I was born when polio was waning, but my older brother has told me he remembers seeing newspaper articles with pictures of hospitals showing rows of iron lungs: huge metal canisters that helped polio victims breathe. If you’re younger than me, it’s entirely possible you’ve never seen such a thing, or even heard of them.
That, to me, is a wondrous thing, and one for which I am truly grateful.
Smallpox: gone. Polio: almost gone. When that last case comes, we can finally say goodbye, and good damn riddance.
What’s next? Pertussis, measles, diphtheria, rubella? Those germs better watch their backs, because we’re coming after them, too. And we’ve got science on our side.
Tip of the hat to mactavish on Twitter via DoctorAtlantis.
*In the interest of fairness, I’ll note that the oral polio vaccines contains a weakened virus, which can then be excreted and contaminate water supplies. In some cases this can actually help spread immunity, but if the virus is given enough time it can mutate and become dangerous again. This has happened a couple of dozen times in the past few decades(poor sanitation conditions make this worse, of course), causing about 760 cases of polio, which is awful … but that’s compared with 10 billion doses given, and an estimated 13 million lives saved. Vaccine risks are extremely low compared with their benefit.
 It has been brought to my attention that the Rotary Club has played a crucial role in this as well.

Nov 8, 2015

Rotary honours 90 Polio heroes



Ninety field workers helping to vaccinate millions of children across Nigeria were honored by Rotary International to commemorate a record 16 months without any new case of wild poliovirus.

The 90 Polio Heroes, as they have been named, include vaccinators, supervisors, data analysts, religious leaders and community volunteers who have helped to  "pave the way to the zero-case status," said Rotary's Nigeria National Polio Plus Committee.
The committee's chairman Dr Tunji Funsho said, "We are also remembering profoundly the sacrifices made by the Polio Heroes, especially the nine young women in Kano and three in Borno states that were targeted and killed by gunmen in separate incidents in 2012 and 2013 while working on Polio vaccination campaigns and many others who were kidnapped while trying to vaccinate children in northern states."
"We want to recognise and thank our foot soldiers in the small communities, in our villages," said Funsho. “We also want to motivate them to continue working as they have helped us to reach the milestone we have just crossed."

"They are the reason why we are able to celebrate a Nigeria that has no polio," he added.
The 90 award recipients come from Borno, Kano, Kaduna, Katsina, Sokoto and Zamfara, where surveillance has heightened to track immunized children, monitor environmental samples of the virus and sustain ongoing immunization of children to ensure the disease is eradicated by 2017. 

Rotary, which advocates and raises funds for polio eradication, has contributed over $1.4 billion in philanthropic spending for Polio immunisation in the past 26 years. 
Wide vaccination has helped reduce the presence of polio to Pakistan and Afghanistan, down from 125 countries in 1988, with Nigeria expected to be free of the virus soon. 
Polio Heroes working at local government levels helped Rotarians reach local political leaders to advocate more spending for polio eradication. 
No local government area has reported a case of type 1 wild poliovirus this year, compared with five areas before the last case wa recorded in July last year. 
Type 2 of the virus has not been recorded in the last 18 years and the last record of type 3 was 35 months ago. 
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