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Violence, vaccine fears keep polio from disappearing


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A polio worker along with a policeman for security, traveling on his motorbike in Pakistan. — Photo by Online

WASHINGTON: Sixty years after the first successful polio vaccine trial, the disease has been wiped out in much of the world, but violence, conspiracy theories and lack of cash keep it from disappearing.

“The world is closer than ever to eradicating polio,” said Oliver Rosenbauer, spokesman for the World Health Organisation's Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

In 2012, there were just 223 infections worldwide, compared to 360,000 in 1988, when the United Nations launched a campaign to eliminate the highly contagious illness that causes paralysis and sometimes death, particularly in young children.

All but six of last year's cases were in three countries: Nigeria (122), Pakistan (58) and Afghanistan (37), according to the WHO.

The success seen in India, which has had no new cases in two years, shows that eradicating polio is “technically feasible,” Rosenbauer told AFP.

“So now the question is, does the world want to do this? Does it have enough political will to do this?” If the virus is not eliminated, the number of cases could return to a level of 200,000 new infections annually within 10 years, he warned.

But efforts to end the disease face mounting risks brought on by violence against vaccine workers in the disease's last bastions.

In Nigeria and Pakistan, some religious figures say the vaccine contains pork, which Muslims are forbidden from consuming, or that it renders people infertile as part of an alleged Western plot to sterilise Muslims.

Dozens of health workers have been killed in attacks on vaccination stations in recent months, particularly in remote areas – with at least 10 killed in northern Nigeria and 20 in Pakistan since December.

In Pakistan, some believe the CIA used polio vaccines as a cover for a campaign to obtain DNA samples from people in order to root out al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, who was killed in a US raid in 2011.

“There is no question that these groups fighting the polio vaccination effort are a challenge to polio eradication,” said Carol Pandak, who heads an anti-polio program at the charitable organization Rotary International.

In order to break down hostilities, international polio workers have held meetings with local religious leaders and the governments of the countries concerned.

The goal is to communicate on a local level “so they can learn more about the benefits of immunisation and we can hear their concerns,” said Pandak.

But money remains a problem. Pandak said the global anti-polio campaign is short 660 million dollars in 2013, or more than half the annual budget of a billion dollars that experts say is necessary.

The funds come mainly from G8 countries, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Rotary International and other donors.

Eradicating polio could lead to success against other illnesses, such as measles, according to Walter Orenstein, chairman of the WHO's Technical Consultative Group on the Global Eradication of Poliomyelitis.

“I think the polio effort has the potential to draw in a lot of expertise to tackle other diseases in the future,” he told AFP.

American Jonas Salk developed the first polio vaccine, testing it on volunteers, including himself and his family, before announcing the first successful trial results in 1953.

In 1955, the vaccine was declared safe and effective for release on the world market.

“The success of the polio vaccine required a real coordinated effort,” said Orenstein.

“The polio virus is an enemy of humankind. By eradicating it, it's a gift from this generation to all future generations.”

Comments (8) Closed

actually... Mar 25, 2013 11:09am
polio vaccines WERE used as a cover for CIA operations, its not just BELIEVED. Its a fact....
Agha Ata (USA) Mar 25, 2013 01:13pm
Therefore now Polio will be allowed to spread, and no treatment is necessary. Right?
zafarov Mar 25, 2013 01:26pm
If that did happen, it should be ensured that the CIA cannot operate that way..What do you suggest? Shall we abandon the effort to eradicate polio and condemn children to a life of suffering which is so easily preventable?
Cyrus Howell Mar 25, 2013 02:44pm
"A plague on your house."
Different View Mar 25, 2013 05:57pm
CIA didn't tamper with the health of the kids. They used vaccination as a means to gather information. This shouldn't affect the vaccination of the children who are still vulnerable to this disease.
BEA Mar 25, 2013 11:28pm
If the Taliban stopped killing the people trying to help and give out the vaccine, it would not spread,
APC Mar 26, 2013 12:19am
Please do not give polio vaccine to your own kids, Lead by example. Great thinking and keep it up. But let other children who are not that worried about CIA have it.
Vaibhav from Mumbai Mar 26, 2013 10:50am
Sir, My sister is suffering from Polio from the time she was 9 months old. Today she is 51 years old. I know how the entire family suffers and how badly the victim suffers all her life when she is affected by polio. It pains me when I read in Pakistani newspapers that there many children are not given Polio vaccine (for whatever reasons). Why are the lives of small kids being spoilt? Why by not giving vaccine they should be made susceptible to such a disease. For what fault of these small children should they be made to suffer?? Polio is a disease which occures only once and then the victim has to suffer lifelong. I humbly appeal to the Government of Pakistan and to all the people concerned to please ensure that polio vaccines are given to all small children.