Four sick children in northern Pakistan mark the first polio cases of 2014, but not the disease’s first victims. Since last Tuesday, anti-government violence has claimed the lives at least three polio health workers and injured several others, stalling progress towards the disease’s eradication.

Along with Afghanistan and Nigeria, Pakistan remains one of three countries to which polio is endemic. In view of India’s remarkable success in eradicating polio, in 2012, the World Health Organization launched an aggressive strategy to eradicate polio in the three remaining countries as part of their Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

However, their efforts to boost vaccination coverage have been met by violent resistance in Pakistan, notably by Taliban and Al Qaeda-led Armed Forces. Lethal assaults have turned polio related work into a high-risk occupation and reversed polio eradication efforts.

The Human Rights Watch reported at least 22 polio workers were killed and 14 wounded in Pakistan in 2012 and 2013; in the past two weeks alone, armed motorists shot at polio vaccinators. The attacks came just one day after the launch of a national three day drive to immunize up to 7.6 million children.

Their assault tactics not only forced workers from both the WHO and local teams to halt their work, but also resulted in a nearly immediate increase in the number of polio cases. According to the United Nations, polio cases increased by 57 percent in the past year, up from 58 cases in 2012 to 91 in 2013.

The vaccination ban stems from a United States espionage rumor that turned out to be true. In 2011, the CIA sent a faux vaccination team to Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan to scout information about his whereabouts. While its Pakistani accomplice, Dr. Shakil Afridi, faces years of imprisonment, authentic vaccinators are now shunned for being U.S. spies.

On top of actual rumors that vaccinations secretly sterilizes Muslim children and growing animosity toward drone strikes that reportedly killed more than 2,400 people in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia over the past five years, administering polio vaccinations seems an almost impossible task to such an unwilling public.

Despite these setbacks, Pakistan’s government is determined to eliminate the disease and implemented incentives for vaccinators. It has created crisis response centers, increased police and army escorts and health officials treating patients in the most dangerous areas now receive $5 for their work.

Emily Bajet

Sources: The News, DW Akademie, DW Akademie,Wall Street Journal, Al Jazeera, United Nations, New York Times, New York Times, New York Times, The Bureau Investigates
Photo: BBC

This week marked the three-year anniversary of India’s being polio-free. Once viewed as one of the biggest challenges in polio eradication, significant improvements in public health, education and vaccination programs have helped India reach this developmental milestone.

A densely populated country of more than one billion people, India was considered one of the toughest places to tackle the polio endemic. In 2009, India reported 741 polio cases,   comprising nearly half of the world’s polio cases. Two years after this peak level, India saw its last reported case of wild polio on January 13, 2011.

To combat this endemic, India has made vast improvements to its infrastructure, which has advanced public health measures beyond polio eradication. These changes allowed India’s poorest and most rural populations access to vaccinations. Innovative approaches were taken, such as targeting families on trains and accessing the vast rural area of India by foot to deliver vaccinations. They are now being used to tackle other diseases through immunization, such as measles.

The polio eradication efforts also used social mobilizers to educate people on the subject, working with religious leaders to reach parents, specifically targeting the importance for children’s health. Today, they are using these education techniques in counseling pregnant women on breastfeeding and providing newborns with necessary immunizations.

A National Immunization Day has been implemented for further awareness and progress. Each day consists of vaccine doses, vaccinators, vaccine carriers, and supervisors and hundreds of thousands of people mobilizing worldwide to eradicate polio completely by 2018. Past cases provide proof that as long as polio exists, it remains a threat everywhere. A success story, India continues to build its own immunization campaign. Giving hope and providing successful measures to eradicate polio to the three remaining polio-endemic countries: Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan.

Maris Brummel

Sources: Polio Eradication, UNICEF, Polio Eradication
Photo: India Ink

Since 1979 the United States has been free of the disease that at one point crippled 35,000 people per year. Although Polio has now been stopped in the United States, several countries continue to suffer from the Polio virus. This infectious disease spreads rapidly to the spinal cord and can ultimately lead to paralysis. Unfortunately there is no cure for the disease but thanks to the Polio vaccination, its spread is better controlled. Many are unaware of what causes Polio so an overview including symptoms will be presented. 

“Polio” is short for Poliomyelitis which is caused by a virus that infects the nervous system. Though the virus is usually transmitted through person to person contact, 95% of those infected don’t have any symptoms. The virus tends to remain inside the human body, reaching the environment through either a fecal or oral route. Infection is rampant in areas that are extremely unsanitary and where children are exposed to the fecal material of other infected people. Since the Poliovirus enters humans, for the most part, through the mouth or nose, it is inclined to spread easily. Once in the throat, the virus multiplies until reaching the bloodstream, possibly even infecting the nervous system. Complications that arise from the virus include the following:

  • Pneumonia
  • Shock
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Paralysis
  • Loss of intestinal function
  • Lack of movement
  • Muscle weakness

Several treatments in developing nations have been adopted to help counteract these symptoms including antibiotics for infections, painkillers for muscle pain, physical therapy and surgery for muscle complications. Additionally, the Polio immunization prevents the spread of the virus in over 90% of the population though cases in which the spinal cord and brain are not involved have a positive outlook from the start. This vaccination has proven to be extremely effective as illustrated through the fact that global immunization campaigns have diminished thousands of cases worldwide. Polio outbreaks are, however, still seen in Asia and Africa, but several organizations are continuing to campaign for vaccine accessibility.


Maybelline Martez

Sources: Centers for Disease Control, Mayo Clinic, NIH,
Photo: Foreign Policy

The World Health Organization has just announced a polio outbreak in Syria — ten cases of polio virus have been found so far and the majority of the cases were found in children under the age of two who weren’t immunized.

Polio is a highly contagious disease that is typically spread by consuming food or liquid that is contaminated with feces. Young children are the most prone to this disease and symptoms include fever, fatigue, vomiting, neck stiffness, and limb pain. Paralysis and death can also result from polio.

This is the first outbreak of wild polio that has been in Syria since 1999. Health authorities in Syria began planning a response to combat the outbreak, and they have already begun implementing their plan. On October 24th, a large scale immunization took place and Syria is planning to vaccinate 1.6 million children against polio, rubella, measles, and the mumps.

This outbreak may be related to the recent decline in immunization rates. Rates have declined from 91 percent in 2010 to 68 percent in 2012. The UN estimates that as of now 500,000 children in Syria are not immunized.

Aid workers say that due to the current conflict in Syria over four million Syrians are displaced are living in unsanitary conditions, which is perfect breeding grounds for polio to spread. There is also an estimated 2.5 million people in the country that do not even have any access to health care centers to get immunizations. More than 100,000 children, all under the age of five are now at high risk of contracting polio.

Since the conflict in Syria has started two million Syrians have fled the country which means that there is a high risk of the polio spreading to neighboring countries. Travel between regions is now closely monitored and neighboring countries are also preparing for a potential outbreak. Traveling to Syria or nearby countries is only recommended after receiving the wild polio virus Type 1 vaccine.

– Olivia Hadreas

Sources: WHO, CNN, BBC
Photo: Here and Now

Oct. 24 marked World Polio Day, an annual reminder that the fight to eradicate the virus is not yet over. In fact, according the World Health Organization (WHO), children are still at risk, especially those living in the Horn of Africa, where an outbreak has been recently confirmed. There have also been reports of cases in Syria.

According to an article by the United Nations News Centre, the WHO issued a statement for the day, saying that “this is no time for complacency, and efforts must be redoubled to ensure this disease is eradicated once and for all. World Polio Day marks the perfect opportunity to remind us of this fact.”

Although there is no cure for polio, on Oct. 24, 1955, virologist Jonas Salk made his mark on history by leading the first team to create the polio vaccine, which is designed to prevent the disease. Along with the creation of oral polio medication, developed by Albert Sabin, these two medicines have been used to decrease polio cases around the world by 99 percent with the help of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), established in 1988. Transmitted through the mouth via the consumption of contaminated food or water, the disease mostly affects children that are five years old and younger, causing irreversible paralysis.

2012 saw the transmission of the poliovirus to numerous countries, such as Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. However, since October of last year, they have all succeeded in decreasing the number of polio cases by 40 percent. According to the WHO, the world is currently experiencing the lowest amount of poliovirus cases in history – but the organization has also declared the eradication of polio an emergency for global public health. This feat has created a sense of urgency within the international community to eradicate the virus once and for all.

In April, the GPEI unveiled a new six-year plan, the first of its kind dedicated to the eradication of polio. World leaders and individual donors pledged about three-quarters of the pan’s estimated budget of US$5.5 billion over the next six years. The UN Security Council has gotten involved in the mission to stop the spread of the disease as it called on the government of Sudan to lead a polio vaccine campaign in November, which would benefit children living in Sudan’s southern provinces that have been recently affected by the threat and outbreak of the virus.

– Elisha-Kim Desmangles
Feature Writer

Sources: UN News Centre, UN News Centre, WHO, GPEI, GPEI
Photo: Miami Herald

On October 24th, World Polio Day, it was ironically, and unfortunately, announced that a resurgence of polio was reported in Syria after a 14-year absence. At least 22 people are suspected to have polio in Syria. Two initial lab reports are positive for polio, and final results are expected next week. According to WHO spokesman Oliver Rosenbauer, these reports are “very, very likely” to be positive for polio.

Polio was once a feared disease that preyed mainly on children. It crept up suddenly and resulted in permanent paralysis and potentially death. Thankfully, polio has been reduced by 99 percent, and endemic polio has decreased from 125 to 3 countries: Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. This work has saved over 10 million people from polio. As there is no cure for polio, this work has been accomplished through successfully immunizing communities with access to healthcare.

The goal of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, of which WHO is a member, is to reach every last child with polio vaccine and ensure a polio-free world for future generations. Currently, the most poor and marginalized are victims to polio, most notably children in these communities. In Syria, victims of acute flaccid paralysis are children under the age of five. In the eastern province of n Deir al-Zor, more than 100,000 children under the age of five are currently at risk of contracting polio.

As of now, there have been 296 cases of polio worldwide this year. With the breakout in Syria this number is expected to rapidly increase. The only effective response to this outbreak is vaccination. Discussions to coordinate a vaccination campaign in Syria have been ongoing since November 2012. However, logistics were not in place and now at least 22 children are suspected to have polio–a preventable disease they will most likely die from.

As Syria is in the midst of a 2 ½ year civil war, 2 million Syrians have been displaced, and 100,000 have been killed as of September. Additionally, millions more have been displaced inside the country. The civil war has made it difficult for Syrians to receive basic services or to find food and water, much less maintain sanitary living conditions.

In response to these conditions, UNICEF had recently charted a plane to Syria full of food and vaccines. Unfortunately, no polio vaccine was on this cargo, which is currently en route via truck to Syria. With 99 percent of the world’s population free from the dangers of polio, the work of fully eradicating polio is almost complete; and vaccines are the answer.

Every child needs to be vaccinated in order to globally eradicate polio. There are two forms of vaccine available to ward off polio – oral polio vaccine (OPV) and inactivated polio vaccine (IPV). Because OPV is an oral vaccine, it can be administered by anyone, even volunteers. One dose of OPV can cost as little as 11 US cents.

Eradicating polio is within our reach. In the meantime, vaccines are needed in Syria.

Caressa Kruth

Sources: Reuters, WHO, BBC, CNN
Photo: Foreign Policy

One of the worst diseases in the twentieth century, the polio virus affected an estimated 350,000 people when the vaccine was first introduced in 1955. Since that time, the victims of the disease have diminished. There were only 1,352 cases reported in 2010, and the disease remains in only three countries across the globe as of 2012: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.

Although few people are affected by the virus today, a condition known as post-polio syndrome (PPS) can develop in survivors of polio years after they have suffered from the disease. With almost a million survivors of polio in the U.S. alone, the development of PPS has quickly become an incident worth researching. Currently, no cure for the disease exists, and there is little to no medical or governmental focus on the disease.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that there are 10 to 20 million survivors of the polio virus worldwide with approximately 40 percent of survivors develop PPS. That’s 4 to 8 million people suffering from a disease that has no cure and little attention. Symptoms of PPS include muscle atrophy, loss of motor skills and general fatigue. It can become life threatening if a victim’s respiratory muscles begin to weaken which can affect breathing, sleeping, and the ability to work. Those with PPS who depend on physical labor for survival can be seriously affected economically.

Christopher P. Howson, PhD, director of Global Programs for the March of Dimes said, “In developing countries, where polio outbreaks still occur or have ended much more recently, medical systems will be facing PPS for decades into the future and have little knowledge or understanding of it. Even in advanced countries, and this includes the United States, many doctors are not trained to recognize PPS or are reluctant to treat it as a new condition.”

The limited knowledge that doctors across the globe have about PPS furthers the struggle to fight it. The March of Dimes and other polio-fighting advocacy groups have begun a campaign to try to increase medical and political communities’ involvement in diagnosing, treating and, one day, curing post-polio syndrome.

Alessandra Wike

Sources: March of Dimes, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Photo: Epharmapedia