Nigeria Beat Polio
Like many countries in Africa, Nigeria has historically had to deal with serious diseases. One such disease that has been a prominent issue for the country is polio. Polio is an infectious disease that the poliovirus causes. The most common symptoms of polio are fevers, sore throats and nausea, among others. In more severe cases, polio can induce paralysis and meningitis, an infection that affects the spinal cord and brain. Recently, Nigeria beat polio by increasing vaccinations.

Polio Vaccines in Nigeria

The Nigerian government banned vaccinations for the poliovirus in 2003 amid fears they caused Muslim girls to become sterile and helped spread AIDS throughout the region. Around this time, reports stated an outbreak of polio cases throughout Nigeria, as well as many other parts of Africa. Afterward, United Nations officials convinced the then governor of Kano that the vaccinations were safe, although the virus continued to plague Nigeria.

In 2007, reports stated that many new cases of polio in Nigeria came as a result of a mutated vaccine. Normally the polio vaccine involves an injection with a more mild version of the poliovirus. Around this time, however, the vaccines appeared to have helped induce polio instead. This increased people’s concern over vaccinations and many did not perceive them to be a good idea, although it the United Nation’s World Health Organization (WHO) stressed the rarity of these mutations.

According to WHO, Nigeria accounted for more than half of all polio cases in 2012. However, WHO also reported that the country made great efforts since then to reduce the incidents of polio, including “increased community involvement and the establishment of Emergency Operations Centers at the national and state-level.” These efforts have allowed the Nigerian government to respond to outbreaks more efficiently and carry out vaccinations accordingly.

A Reduction in Polio Cases

According to WHO, Nigeria went two years from 2014 to 2016 without any cases of polio. WHO has attributed this to the Nigerian government’s efforts to combat the disease. However, this period quickly came to an end on August 2016, when reports indicated that polio paralyzed two children in the northern Borno state.

As of August 20, 2019, Nigeria achieved three years without any cases of polio. The liberation of the Borno State area in northeastern Nigeria from the Islamist military group, Boko Haram, may be a cause. This military group’s stated purpose was to forbid Muslim citizens in Nigeria from taking part in any activities associated with Western society. As a result of the liberation from Boko Haram, more children have been able to receive treatment for polio, including vaccinations.

Compared to the 600,000 children under the age of 5 who missed out on vaccinations in 2016, only 60,000 children under the age of 5 missed out on receiving vaccinations as of August 20, 2019. This is thanks to factors such as increased surveillance in various islands on Lake Chad, thus allowing them to see which ones people inhabit, thus allowing them to perform vaccinations on more people.

Nigeria Free of the Poliovirus

Nigeria is the last country in Africa to have had any records of the wild poliovirus, and WHO has announced that polio is no longer endemic on the African continent. In other words, thanks to the fact that vaccines have become more advanced and widespread, and the Nigerian government’s increased efforts to respond to these cases, many believe that not only has Nigeria beat polio, it is also virtually nonexistent in Africa as a whole.

While Nigeria beat polio and the virus’ presence in Africa may have faded, the disease has not completely disappeared. Several projects have formed to put an end to it once and for all, though. One such project is the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI). GPEI partners with organizations such as the World Health Organization and Rotary International. According to the GPEI website, it has helped ensure over 2.5 billion vaccinations for children all across the world in over 200 countries. This is a clear example of what the average person can do to help eliminate this disease.

– Adam Abuelheiga
Photo: Flickr

polio eradication in Nigeria
For the last three years, Nigeria has not had one case of polio. As the last country in Africa to still record the wild polio disease, this new health milestone of the eradication of polio in Nigeria has proven the success of public health campaigns for the entire continent of Africa.

The Decline of Polio

Back in 1988, polio paralyzed more than 350,000 children in over 125 countries around the world. Although the devastating disease infected children in almost every country, cases of wild polio decreased by 99 percent after 1988. While the wild polio disease exists in nature, several vaccine-derived outbreaks have occurred in six African countries. In 2012, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that Nigeria held more than half of polio cases worldwide. Total immunization then became the primary goal for the eradication of polio in Nigeria to ensure that the population has protection from the vaccine-derived and wild virus. Persistent efforts of immunization have helped immunize over 45 million children under the age of 5 in Nigeria. An estimated 200,000 volunteers in Nigeria have aided in giving polio vaccines in the last five years.

Children and Polio

At the start of the polio epidemic in Nigeria, 600,000 children did not have the polio vaccine and an estimated 90 percent of polio cases were within northeast Nigeria. Due to this area encompassing largely scattered communities, satellite imaging has aided volunteers with finding unvaccinated children. Vaccinators will also frequently set up clinics within local markets to find all the unvaccinated children.

Dr. Pascal Mkanda, the leader of the eradication of polio in Nigeria for WHO, set out to eradicate the disease within three years by first vaccinating children under 5 years of age. The poliovirus remains highly infectious and mostly affects children. In the worst cases, polio causes irreversible paralysis. No cure for polio exists, but the eradication of the disease through immunization has prevented outbreaks. Estimates determine that the eradication of polio in Nigeria has saved 16 million children from paralysis.

Women and Vaccinations

Many Nigerian women are at the forefront of the battle against polio. UNICEF and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation hire mostly young Nigerian women as vaccinator volunteers because Islam is the most prominent religion in northern Nigeria, and it prohibits men that are not family members from entering a Muslim home. The women volunteers go door-to-door to educate families about the vaccine and receive clinical training to give vaccinations.

Today, more than 30 million Nigerian children have received the polio vaccine. The volunteers are also in a continuous battle with skeptical anti-vaccination parents and the militant group Boko Haram. Boko Haram intentionally spreads misinformation about the vaccine and violently targets volunteers in order to keep Islam pure in Northern Africa. Some Nigerian people still have doubts about the vaccine, but now only 1 percent of people refuse the vaccination.

Overall, the eradication of polio in Nigeria represents an achievement for global health. The commitment of global health organizations and neighboring communities to the eradication of polio proves that investing in foreign aid can have a worldwide benefit.

– Nia Coleman
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Curing Polio in Pakistan and Afghanistan
In 1988, polio existed in more than 100 countries and infected close to 1,000 children daily. Due to advocacy efforts and the implementation of preventable vaccinations, cases of polio have significantly dropped at a rate of 99 percent. In 1988, about 350,000 children had polio while statistics indicated that in 2017, only 22 documented illnesses existed. However, children are still struggling as Pakistan and Afghanistan attempt to eliminate polio their countries.

Children are most vulnerable to contracting polio between birth and age five. One in 200 contagions result in irreparable paralysis, most commonly in the legs; five to 10 percent of those infected die from this disease due to the disabling of their breathing muscles.

Most children that are living with polio do not experience manifestations; however, polluted water and food can still spread the disease. Polio is preventable through several doses of vaccinations, but there is no treatment.

Modernized Vaccines to Prevent Polio

In 2013, all countries began to implement one dose of the new vaccines and terminate the use of the oral vaccines by 2018, which the Polio Eradication & Endgame Strategic Plan instructed.

In order to eliminate polio in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Polio Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan is terminating the administrations of oral vaccines which only protected against type 2 of the virus; instead, Afghanistan and Pakistan are implementing doses of the inactivated polio vaccine, which should be more effective in preventing the disease as it prevents all three types of polio. The modern vaccine can also enhance immunity and inhibit further epidemics of polio.

Efforts to Eliminate Polio in Pakistan and Afghanistan

In 2018, The Ministry of Public Health in Afghanistan partnered with UNICEF and The World Health Organization to initiate the country’s third nation-wide polio vaccination campaign. Nearly 9.9 million children below age five received the vaccination.

Regions such as Kandahar, Helmand, Uruzgan and Zabul contained nearly 1.2 million children who did not have access to the vaccine. However, this past program and future programs will ensure that these children can also receive the necessary dosages.

Vaccinated children also received Vitamin A capsules to strengthen their immunity and decrease diarrhea. This also strengthened their immune systems from respiratory infections. Immunity can increase their chances of survival by nearly 24 percent. Nearly 70,000 health workers visited every household to administer vaccinations. This was to ensure that other children received the preventable medication as well. Because polio is contagious, each family’s chances of surpassing the disease increases if every child receives a vaccination.

In Pakistan, the number of polio infections is at a low rate. Further, improved immunity has also begun to increase. While this country has made progress in battling polio, many children have not received the preventable vaccines in high-risk areas. Therefore, Pakistan has begun to implement various solutions such as customized vaccines. Additionally, the country has partnered with the Emergency Operations Centers to administer effective prevention techniques.

Polio is most common in Karachi as well as the federally administered tribal areas, the Quetta block and the Khyber-Peshawar corridor. While the disease is highly present in these areas, other areas nationwide are susceptible to contracting the virus due to travel and migration.

The Partnership Between Pakistan and Afghanistan

To eliminate polio in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the two nations plan on partnering to identify children who are vulnerable to the disease and provide vaccinations, while also administering health campaigns to promote advocacy about the prevention of polio. Environmental surveillance has discovered the presence of polio. This serves as evidence that children with weaker immune systems are present in these areas. Consequently, this enables the disease to grow and infect other children.

– Diana Dopheide

Photo: Flickr

vaccination rates in Papua New Guinea

Across the globe, access to adequate healthcare appears to be of paramount concern for both governmental and non-governmental organizations. Not only does providing health services to underserved and under-represented populations increase general wellbeing and happiness, it has also proven to be beneficial for the economy, per the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Pushing for Vaccinations

In February, the southeast Asian nation of Papua New Guinea declared 2019 as “The Year of Immunization,” in an effort to stave off preventable diseases and promote healthier lifestyles. This push to increase vaccination rates in Papua New Guinea was further intensified following several polio outbreaks across the country in Summer and late 2018 as well as in early 2019, and outbreaks of measles in 2014 and 2015 with 2,000 total confirmed cases and over 350 deaths. This recent resurgence in the near-eradicated virus can be attributed to sub-optimal living conditions and lack of wide-spread, generalized immunization.

Furthermore, the efforts to increase vaccination rates in Papua New Guinea would hopefully spur the economy, lifting more citizens out of poverty (as of 2002, 37 percent of New Guinea’s population lived below the global poverty line – approximately 2.5 million people), though this economic boost would act primarily as an added bonus to preventing polio, rubella and measles.

Widescale immunization quickly became a top priority for the government and National Department of Health of Papua New Guinea. While initially a daunting task, the southeast Asian nation partnered with the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and other non-profit organizations, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in order to better coordinate these immunization campaigns.

According to UNICEF, one of the polio campaigns sought to immunize over three million children up to the age of 15-years-old. As of late July 2019, these campaigns have been deemed as successful by the government, significantly increasing vaccination rates in Papua New Guinea. Since February, Papua New Guinea’s National Department of Health, along with the WHO, and UNICEF have led eight successful immunization campaigns, vaccinating approximately 1.28 million children under the age of five for polio, in addition to just over one million children of the same age for rubella and measles.

Cooperation Among Organizations

The success of these campaigns can be traced to swift action and cooperation between the primarily players. The WHO estimates that over 12,000 workers (from vaccination specialists, mobilizers and surveillance officers) helped to orchestrate these movements across the country – movements, which according to The Papua New Guinea National Department of Health, have had a 95 percent success rate.

While these increased vaccination rates in Papua New Guinea are positive signs for the future of the country’s health promotion and disease prevention, it is important to note that Papua New Guinea was declared as polio free in 2000 and went 18 years without a confirmed case of polio. It is essential that Papua New Guinea continue these immunization campaigns in order to guarantee healthier lifestyles for the rest of 2019 and into the future.

– Colin Petersdorf
Photo: Flickr

Vaccine Hesitancy in Developing CountriesVaccine hesitancy, the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines, has been around since the invention of the vaccine. Recently, there has been an increase in vaccine hesitancy in developing countries due to safety concerns and long-term effects. With this skepticism, outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases that were once thought mostly eradicated such as measles, pertussis and diphtheria, have increased in frequency around the world.

This year, the World Health Organization named vaccine hesitancy one of the top 10 threats to global health. Vaccines remain the safest and most cost-effective ways of preventing diseases. Currently, vaccines save between two and three million lives a year.

Furthermore, if coverage improves, vaccines can save an additional 1.5 million lives per year. The reasons for vaccine hesitancy are complex, but a vaccine advisory group identified complacency, inconvenience in accessing vaccines and a lack of confidence as some of the root causes. With these factors identified, if now becomes a question of how to fight these causes of vaccine hesitancy in developing countries.

Complacency

Some health experts have theorized that vaccine skepticism stems from the fact that vaccines are so effective that parents no longer remember or fear vaccine-preventable diseases like measles and polio. Instead, they may focus their anxieties on the safety of vaccines, effects or the number and timing of injections.

Without a proper understanding of the devastating effects of these diseases, parents have less of a motivation to vaccinate. EU Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukatis said at an international health conference, “We have become victims of our own success.”

Convenience

Vaccine hesitancy in developing countries is often bolstered by the need for medical infrastructure. Inadequacy and the inequities in health systems like poverty, the disparity in infant mortality and life expectancy and a need for trained providers damages community trust.

To combat this, many countries have implemented mandatory vaccinations in schools, with mixed results. In India, for example, during their measles and rubella vaccination campaign, parents objected to their children being vaccinated without their consent, stalling the campaign in court.

Rwanda, on the other hand, was successful in its HPV vaccination campaign by coupling it with an information campaign. The campaign targeted parents and explained the need for this vaccine.

Confidence

Much of the anti-vaxxer movement is built in misinformation. Vaccine hesitancy in developing countries often stems from rumors about vaccines. For instance, that the polio and HPV vaccines caused infertility and impotency. The movement stems from general concerns about the safety of vaccines.

Health workers, especially those operating in the communities, are the parents’ most trusted health advisors and act as the biggest influencer of vaccination decisions. Because of their position, they must be supported so that they may provide parents with credible information. The most effective campaigns to fight vaccine hesitancy in developing countries are the ones that tailor to the community. Healthcare workers in the community are vital for implementing these campaigns.

In Rwanda, for example, healthcare workers went door to door to explain the benefits of the HPV vaccine. They focused on the fact that the vaccination is meant to prevent cancer. The workers brought diagrams of the female reproductive system. They also dispelled rumors by explaining that cervical cancer is far more likely to cause infertility than vaccines. Because the campaigned was tailored to the community, it was met with a lot of success.

Overcoming Vaccine Hesitancy

While there is an increase in vaccine hesitancy in developing countries and around the world, immunization campaigns are experiencing successes. Transmission of wild poliovirus, for example, may stop in Afghanistan and Pakistan this year. Additionally, cervical cancer may be eliminated in 181 countries by the end of the century.

To keep this up, health officials have to be proactive in fighting vaccine hesitancy in developing countries by fighting complacency, making access to healthcare more convenient and building confidence by creating programs tailored to the community.

– Katharine Hanifen
Photo: Flickr

Polio in Somalia
After eradicating polio in 1997, Somalia has reported new cases since 2005 with a surge in outbreaks in 2018. The gradually increasing number of cases shows that the disease is far from gone and caused the World Health Organization (WHO) to call for immediate action in eliminating polio in Somalia in 2018.

Background

Somalia reported 228 cases of polio between 2005 and 2007. The country responded with an immunization campaign of four rounds of national immunization days conducted in 2008. Somalia maintained a polio-free status for six years following the campaign. And the country continues to require two national days of immunization per year following the end of the 2007 outbreak. Its National Child Health Day initiative has added a polio vaccination attempting to broaden the number reached. However, due to a number of challenges, National Child Health Day reaches less than one-half of eligible children.

Resurfacing of Disease

In 2013, polio in Somalia resurfaced with 194 cases. Polio outbreaks around the region were frequent in 2013, due to the influx of refugees fleeing Syria, a country which has had severe outbreaks since the start of the Syrian Civil War. Fourteen months after the first confirmed case, the outbreak was officially over. WHO commended the country for quickly containing the epidemic highlighting the importance of cooperation and commitment between government health officials and parents.

Polio rates in Somalia are highest in southern Somalia, which the WHO considers an inaccessible area. Only 3 percent of children in south Somalia have all three of their polio vaccinations, compared to the 17 percent of children that have all three doses in the northern region. The differing rates correlate with the national borders of Somalia and Somaliland. Northern Somalia declared independence in 1991 as the state of Somaliland, although no other nation recognizes it as independent. Somaliland has since flourished in comparison with democratic elections, working government institutions, a police force and its own currency. Many consider Somalia, by contrast, a failed state. It remains under the control of an Islamist armed group and fights instability and insecurity, causing it to remain in a constant humanitarian crisis. Due to the forces that govern, vaccination campaigns rarely occur, and many NGOs lack access to the region’s vaccination eligible children.

Fighting Back Against Outbreak

Following the 2013 outbreak, UNICEF funded the creation of Dhibcaha Nolosha or Drops for Life. Dhibcaha Nolosha is a weekly 15-minute radio segment attempting to combat the misinformation about polio and polio vaccinations. Of children vaccinated in 2019, less than half of their caretakers understood that children had to have multiple doses of vaccinations. The radio show has medical experts explain how polio transmits and how the vaccination works, including personal stories and space for listeners to ask questions about polio.

Somalia launched a nationwide three-day campaign in March 2019 to vaccinate 3.1 million children under the age of 5. The campaign, launched by the government and supported by the WHO and UNICEF, went door to door with 15,000 frontline polio health workers. The campaign sought to vaccinate all children under the age of 5 with at least the first round of the oral polio vaccine. The WHO plans to continue supporting the efforts with annual campaigns in Somalia along with monitoring any future outbreaks.

Polio in Somalia continues to be a problem with the most recent report in June 2019. Somalia currently has 15 confirmed and open cases but continues to promote vaccination campaigns, trying to regain polio-free status. However, with little cooperation with governing figures in the southern region, the WHO continues to monitor the situation closely.

– Carly Campbell
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Polio Eradication in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria - The Final Three
Poliomyelitis, often called polio or infantile paralysis is an infectious disease caused by the poliovirus. It is a devastating disease that primarily impacts children and it can survive in the wild, but not for long without a human host. There is no cure, therefore, immunization is the foundation for eradication efforts. Today, polio is almost entirely eradicated from the planet.

Global immunization campaigns have made terrific progress in decreasing wild poliovirus (WPV) cases by over 99 percent in the past 30 years, down from an estimated 350,000 cases in 1988 to 29 reported cases in 2018. While more work needs to be done, the world is closing in on the virus and all eyes are on polio eradication in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria- the three final endemic countries. In the text below, the status of polio in these three countries is presented.

Polio Eradication in Afghanistan

Between the three countries listed above, in 2018 the most global polio cases were reported in Afghanistan. However, Afghanistan is the only endemic country not currently battling vaccine-derived polio, a form that can paralyze, in addition to WPV, which is a victory. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), in conjunction with Afghanistan’s Emergency Operation Centres, has dedicated continuing high-priority surveillance and instituted an aggressive immunization campaign to eradicate WPV in order to protect those most affected.

In November 2018, the country concluded an immunization campaign that targeted over five million children in the highest-risk provinces. These accomplishments are impressive, but at the same time fragile, because every single child must be vaccinated in this rapidly growing country. The Emergency Operation Centres are continuing to work under a National Emergency Action Plan and with local communities to ensure that all children are consistently reached now and in the future.

Polio Eradication in Pakistan

Polio could be eliminated from Pakistan this year, with continued strategic implementation. A vaccination campaign in December reached nearly 40 million children and the number of reported cases in the country is the lowest it has ever been. The race to the finish line requires continued focus on immunity gaps in high-risk and mobile communities, especially those that are close to the places where the virus is still indigenous, as well as continued accountability and high childhood vaccination rates.

Additionally, several of the endemic polio regions remain on the border with Afghanistan, which will require the two countries to continue addressing these WPV strongholds together. This region highlights the continued global threat of a virus that transcends geopolitical boundaries.

Polio Eradication in Nigeria

While WPV has never stopped circulating in Nigeria, there have not been any WPV cases since 2016. This is a terrific start towards wild polio eradication, but Nigeria has seen years without a WPV outbreak in the past only to see it return. The country is also managing continued vaccine-derived outbreaks. While immunization is paramount to eradication, some forms of the vaccine can infect patients and cause an outbreak. Though this adds a complex level to eradication strategies, immunization remains the most viable solution.

Currently, a variety of innovative solutions are underway to reach children in high-risk areas, including international immunization campaigns in the Lake Chad Basin whenever security permits, market vaccinations and seeking out nomadic communities. Similar to Afghanistan and Pakistan, continued efforts remain focused on closing immunity gaps, vaccinating all children and working with the country’s neighbors, but additional support for political and financial commitment is needed in Nigeria.

Going Forward

Wild polio eradication in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria is almost complete, but there are several challenges facing major vaccination efforts. In order to achieve elimination, every single child needs to be immunized. Even one unvaccinated child leaves the entire world at risk of infection.

There are, however, real challenges to this seemingly straightforward goal. Barriers like reaching children in mobile populations or in active conflict zones require international political coordination and more resources for mobile and stationary vaccination teams. Another major barrier is vaccine-derived polio cases, which threaten populations that don’t currently see polio in the wild. Research into the implications of adjusting the vaccine are underway and seek to address eliminating the spread of vaccine-derived infection.

It will not be possible to eradicate every disease with vaccination. Polio is one of the ones that can be. As global health efforts target polio eradication in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria, the world will likely be able to list polio next to smallpox and rinderpest on the coveted list of globally eradicated diseases.

– Sarah Fodero

Photo: Flickr

Australia Pledges $10 Million to Fight Polio in Papua New Guinea
Recently, the Australian government pledged $10 million to fight polio in Papua New Guinea. Australia’s contribution will go towards preventing the spread of infectious diseases and expanding the reach of vaccination campaigns. Earlier this year, the first case of polio since 2000 arose in Papua New Guinea. The government has declared the polio outbreak a national public health emergency. Since Australia is Papua New Guinea’s closest neighbor, the polio outbreak is a health threat to both countries. This shared interest spurred Australia’s decision to help contain Papua New Guinea’s polio outbreak.

Polio Around the World

Poliomyelitis, or more commonly known as polio, primarily targets children under the age of five. Polio is caused by a virus, which spreads primarily through contact between people. Though the first symptoms are relatively mild, as the infection spreads through the nervous system, it can lead to paralysis, which is the case in one out of every 200 infections. While there is no cure for polio, the disease is entirely preventable. If children receive the polio vaccine for the recommended amount of times, they can become immune to the virus.

Though the global incidences of polio have fallen by more than 99 percent since 1988, polio is still a public health threat to children around the world. According to The World Health Organization, if even one child still has polio, children in every country are at risk for contracting it. Unless polio is completely eradicated, there could be nearly 200,000 new cases of polio worldwide each year over the next 10 years. Because of polio’s highly infectious nature and the great health risks it brings, the international community must focus on vaccinating children worldwide.

An Outbreak of Polio in Papua New Guinea

For the past 18 years, Papua New Guinea was polio-free. Unfortunately, in April 2018, a young boy in Papua New Guinea’s northern region surfaced with symptoms consistent with polio, including lower limb paralysis. The following month, doctors diagnosed the boy with a vaccine-derived poliovirus type one. The single case worsened shortly afterward when stool samples from two children in the same neighborhood displayed the same strain of polio. The National Department of Health of Papua New Guinea and The World Health Organization both confirmed the diagnosis and Papua New Guinea’s polio outbreak.

In the Morobe province, where the first case emerged, only 60 percent of the children had received the approved three-dose polio vaccination cycle. Lack of proper sanitation and clean water also increased the risk of polio contagion in the area since the virus can spread through contaminated food or water. Immediately following the outbreak’s announcement, The National Department of Health, along with the World Health Organization and the Global Polio Eradication, introduced a large-scale immunization campaign.

Papua New Guinea’s Health Secretary, Pascoe Kase, underlined the importance of this vaccination campaign, saying the “immediate priority is to respond and prevent more children from being infected.” Moving forward, Papua New Guinea will work in conjunction with The World Health Organization to continue investigating the outbreak and enhancing the response efforts.

Fighting Polio in Papua New Guinea

Alongside other donors, such as The U.S., Canada and Papua New Guinea’s government, the Australian government hopes its $10 million donation will curb the current polio outbreak as well as prevent future infectious diseases. All these donations will benefit the country’s emergency vaccination campaign, totaling $21 million. The campaign hopes to vaccinate more than 3.3 million children in the country, with a special focus on children in densely populated areas.

With the donations from Australia, as well as other countries and organizations, the government of Papua New Guinea has enough funding to cover nearly all of the vaccination expenses. Dr. Mills in Euga province, who is also the president of The Society of Rural and Remote Health, remains hopeful that vaccination efforts will eradicate polio in Papua New Guinea once again.

In recent years, funding for immunizations had dropped, leaving many children vulnerable to polio. As he put it, “let’s hope [the outbreak] provides the impetus to refocus our attention on these basic things,” such as consistent vaccinations programs. He emphasizes that to prevent future polio outbreaks, methods of prevention and intervention must be a priority for Papua New Guinea.

– Morgan Harden
Photo: Flickr

Polio in Papua New Guinea
A polio outbreak was reported in Papua New Guinea. This is the first time polio has been seen in the country in nearly two decades, and an especially poignant occurrence as polio is extremely close to eradication around the world.

What is Polio?

Polio is a dangerous virus spread through food, water and contact with infected people. Those who do not have access to adequate sanitation are especially vulnerable to the virus.

Polio multiplies in the intestines but can move to other parts of the body through the bloodstream and affect the nervous system. This can lead to paralysis. The poliovirus has no cure once contracted, so the only route to the end of polio is through vaccination and other methods of prevention.

How Do You Treat Polio?

There are two forms of vaccination against the polio virus, but oral poliovirus vaccines (OPVs) are the vaccine predominantly used across the world today. OPVs are inexpensive, at a maximum of $0.18 for countries supplied by UNICEF in 2016.

They also are easy-to-use as they are administered orally. Such facility means that the vaccine does not need trained healthcare personnel or sanitized syringes for application.

Polio in Papua New Guinea

The strain of polio in Papua New Guinea is known as vaccine-derived poliovirus type 1. This form of poliovirus is caused by a mutation of the weakened version of the polio virus used in the oral vaccine. The weakened version of the virus stays inside the person who has received the vaccine for several weeks. During this period of time, the body excretes the virus.

In areas with poor sanitation, the vaccine virus can be transferred from person-to-person and can also pass on a passive immunization to others in the community. However, if there is low immunization in a region, the virus can continue transferring for an extended period of time. This spread can lead to mutations in the virus and, in extremely rare cases, the virus can become neurovirulent again in what is called a vaccine-derived poliovirus.

Morobe Province and Prevention Methods

Within the Morobe Province — the region of Papua New Guinea where the virus outbreak was found — only 61 percent of the children had received the three doses of the oral polio vaccine recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). This lack of immunization in conjunction with the lack of adequate sanitation increases the spread of the virus and the danger of the outbreak.

WHO, the National Department of Health, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative and other groups are working alongside the government of Papua New Guinea to contain the virus. Since the confirmation of an outbreak of polio in Papua New Guinea, several large-scale measures have been put into place to prevent any further spread of the disease.

These measures include extensive immunization of those in the region where the virus has been detected, especially for children under the age of 15, and increasing surveillance measures in order to detect any new cases of polio. Plans have also been established to employ more immunization campaigns in the coming weeks.

International Aid

Global efforts to eradicate the polio virus were launched in 1988. Since that time, polio incidence has dropped by 99 percent across the world. The wild poliovirus only remains endemic in three countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. In 2017, there were 22 cases of wild poliovirus and 96 cases of vaccine-derived poliovirus.

This dangerous disease is close to global eradication; however, the outbreak of polio in Papua New Guinea shows that the virus remains a danger in areas with insufficient sanitation and lack of adequate vaccinations. Organizations across the world continue to fight to keep everyone safe and to end the poliovirus once and for all.

– Lindabeth Doby
Photo: Google

Polio in Nigeria
This year, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will start paying off Nigeria’s $76 million debt over the course of the next 20 years. The money was originally borrowed from Japan by Nigeria to fight the polio epidemic in the country.

In 2017, Nigeria had no new cases of polio, which is a significant improvement compared to 2012, when Nigeria accounted for half of all cases worldwide. The Gates Foundation decided to repay the debt on the premise that Nigeria would ramp up its polio vaccination efforts.

The Importance of Polio Eradication

Polio cripples and can potentially kill those who suffer from it. The disease damages spinal nerve cells, causing temporary and sometimes permanent paralysis. Paralysis can sometimes occur within a matter of hours. It is often spread through contaminated food and water. Up to 10 percent of those who become paralyzed die.

Thankfully, there is a vaccine that has contributed to the almost total eradication of polio worldwide. The main problem is getting the vaccine to the children who need it. In order for Nigeria to receive the money from the Gates Foundation, it has to provide vaccine access to at least 80 percent of the country.

The key to eradicating polio in Nigeria is to send health workers across the country to provide the vaccine. Children and families are unable to travel to receive the vaccine, so Nigeria has begun a campaign to bring the vaccine straight to people’s homes, with the support of the Gates Foundation.

Fighting Polio in Nigeria a Priority of the Gates Foundation

Polio in Nigeria was by far the biggest issue in the overall epidemic, which is why Bill and Melinda Gates honed in on the country after announcing that the eradication of polio was their highest priority. In addition to beginning to repay Nigeria’s loan, the Gates Foundation donated $3 billion in 2017 to polio eradication.

The change these donations have made in the epidemic of polio in Nigeria is tangible, since there are currently no known cases in the country. Worldwide, there are only 22 known cases, down from 350,000 cases 30 years ago.

Children today are walking that would have been paralyzed were it not for the generosity of the Gates Foundation and organizations like it. Volunteers on the ground are also the unsung heroes.

On his blog Gates Notes, Bill Gates wrote, “The heroes who have made this progress possible are the millions of vaccinators who have gone door to door to immunize more than 2.5 billion children. Thanks to their work, 16 million people who would have been paralyzed are walking today.” The efforts of these workers should not go unnoticed, as the progress made would not have been possible without people like them.

The progress towards mitigating polio in Nigeria has been phenomenal, with the disease now entirely eradicated from the country. It only takes one child or one traveler for polio to begin to spread again, so it is essential for the countries with a history of the disease to continue their efforts to fight it. Continual vaccinations and immunizations are necessary to maintain the current polio-free Nigeria.

– Amelia Merchant
Photo: Flickr