In a region of the world that has such a large portion of the world’s population (25 percent), health issues in Southeast Asia can reflect many general health concerns. Recent disease scares like the Avian Flu, Swine Flu and the SARS outbreak all had origins and outbreaks in Southeast Asia. Thus, the recent declaration by the World Health Organization (WHO) that polio has been eliminated in the region can be considered a great victory in the fight against global poverty.

The declaration was the culmination of an intensive effort that involved 2.4 million volunteers in India, which had accounted for half the world’s polio cases in 2009. Despite that prevalence just a few years ago, the country has had no reported cases of polio since 2011.

The project cost a billion dollars, largely funded by the Indian government. Former U.S. ambassador John E. Lange said about the announcement, “This is… a proof of concept that polio can be eradicated in some of the most difficult places to work in.” Thanks to the encouragement of the WHO and the collaboration by the Indian government, Southeast Asia looks to have set a model for future regions to follow.

With the official polio-free announcement for Southeast Asia, it can be said that 80 percent of the world’s population lives in polio-free regions. The only two world regions that are still plagued by polio are the Eastern Mediterranean and Africa. Those regions will need time as there is significant resistance in those regions.

Pakistan in particular has been an area resistant to polio eradication. While it would seem that the elimination of polio is a movement that anyone could get behind, the movement has become closely associated to United States intelligence efforts in the region. The Taliban in Pakistan has acted out against polio workers and citizens helping the polio effort. Closely following the news of eradication in Southeast Asia were reports of the kidnapping and murder of a polio worker in Pakistan. With entrenched resistance groups there and in Nigeria, the further eradication of polio might prove difficult going forward.

Also, the Syrian civil war will keep health worries going in that region. Syria had one of the best health care systems in the region prior to the crisis, but the massive displacement of the Syrian population helps spread these dangerous diseases. A spokesman from the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees said, “The current polio outbreak in Syria… is arguably the most challenging outbreak in the history of polio eradication.”

Despite the difficulties in the remaining areas, the eradication of polio in Southeast Asia proves that no matter the circumstances in the present, a dedicated effort can make real progress. The work that the Indian government and WHO have done in the last five years could prove to be successful in other regions. Organizations like The Borgen Project encourage this type of work to continue, and for the United States to step up their support in regions that are dealing with these difficulties.

-Eric Gustafsson

Sources: LA Times, NPR, WHO, The Guardian
Photo: NPR

Diplomacy saves lives. Not only can good foreign relations prevent the outbreak of war and violence between and within countries, but it also allows for the trust and respect necessary for global development initiatives to work.

In 1988 UNICEF and the Rotary Club International joined forces to eradicate polio across the globe. The project was shockingly successful and, as a result, the number of estimated polio cases decreased from 400,000 to 7,000 between 1980 and 1999. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation contributed to the cause and helped immunize 2.5 billion young people in 200 countries with the help of almost 200 million volunteers. By 2003 only 784 cases of polio remained on the planet.

Yet as promising as these numbers appear, the goal stated in 1988 was to eliminate polio by the year 2000. This did not happen. In 2003, the number of polio cases dwindling, a conspiracy theory transpired. In a primarily Muslim region of Nigeria, a few imams surmised that the polio vaccine contained sterilizing agents that would make their daughters infertile. The life-saving vaccination was conclusively dubbed to be a CIA plot. As this rumor spread to Afghanistan and Pakistan, groups such as the Taliban spoke out against the previously well-received shot. The number of polio cases in children grew to 2,020 by 2006. In 2008 only Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan still had polio circulating through water supplies and infected children.

In 2013 polio cases of the same strain found in Pakistan were discovered in Somalia and Syria. Both countries trained their military’s in Pakistan. Iraq reported its first polio case in 14 years this March 2014, and the United Nations has branded Syria’s climb to 38 reported cases of polio “the most challenging outbreak in the history of polio eradication.” Fears are skyrocketing that the dreadful disease is spreading throughout the Middle East.

Many claim that violence and displacement are primary causes of the setback in Iraq. Polio, an incurable disease, spreads quickly in overcrowded regions prone to poverty and malnourishment. It is preventable, though, and it’s a shame that less than favorable political and ideological relations contributed to its present resurgence.

– Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: Foreign Policy, The Guardian, IRIN
Photo: CNN

Violence Against Polio Workers
In the most recent attack against health workers, one doctor, three guards and two local employees of the World Health Organization (WHO) were kidnapped while administering polio vaccine in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a north western region of Pakistan.

Although no group has yet claimed responsibility, militants in the area have a history of inflicting violence against polio vaccinators, whom they accuse of sterilizing their children and being United States spies.

This attack follows a bombing in Peshawar, where a bomb targeting another polio vaccination team killed a policeman.

Polio workers have encountered violence in Pakistan since late 2006, when Taliban officials took control of Swat in the Himalayan region. They prohibited polio vaccination campaigns and vilified Lady Health Workers, many of whom stopped working due to direct threats to their lives.

Matters escalated even further after the assassination of Osama bin Laden in 2011. Under the ruse of a vaccination-campaign, CIA operatives infiltrated Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, which allowed them to test his children’s blood and guarantee his presence at the complex.

Since then, Taliban violence against polio workers has continued unabated, with more than 40 people, including health workers, the police teams guarding them and bystanders having been killed in Pakistan. Torture is also not unheard of, as experienced by three members of a polio vaccination team late last year.

After a particularly violent week against workers in December of 2012, UNICEF and the WHO issued a joint statement condemning polio attacks.

“Those killed or injured, many of whom are women, are among hundreds of thousands of heroes who work selflessly to eradicate polio and provide other health services to children in Pakistan,” said the statement. “Such attacks deprive children in Pakistan of their right to basic life-saving health interventions and place them at risk for a disease that causes lifelong disability.”

Typically affected children under the age of 5, the virus may result in paralysis and death.

Polio remains endemic only three countries in the world, including Pakistan, but if left untreated, officials warn it could trigger as many as 200,000 new cases every year.

– Emily Bajet

Sources: UNICEF, The Express Tribune, The Guardian, Newsweek Pakistan, Open Democracy
Photo: Washington Post

The World Health Organization is currently testing the last samples of the polio virus to certify India’s clear status next month. Since 2012, India has been removed from the list of polio-endemic countries and through a sustained immunization program, has set an impressive public health goal for other developing countries to follow.

Eradicating polio has not been an easy feat for India. This infectious disease that causes crippling disabilities, left 35,000 people paralyzed every year during the 1980s. During this time, over 100 countries fought to eradicate polio by setting up campaigns that stopped this endemic in several nations. Countries such as Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan are still suffering however.

According to the CDC, every child needs to be vaccinated against polio or consequently, a resurgence could lead to over 200,000 children worldwide being paralyzed every year. The success of India’s large scale immunization program has built up the nation’s confidence. India’s Minister of Health, Ghulam Nabi Azad, explained that the success of India would not have been possible without political involvement, financial resources and technological innovation to inoculate against the virus. Azad further detailed that 2.3 million volunteers worked tirelessly during the campaign to vaccinate approximately 170 million children for each round of immunization.

Despite these paramount changes, health experts fear that polio may rise in other areas, although statistics remain low for most developing nations. Recent polio cases from 2012 are from the following polio endemic countries:

Afghanistan – 26

Nigeria – 97

Pakistan – 47

India was removed from this list of polio-endemic countries because it met the following three milestones:

1. No new cases of polio reported within a three year period

2. Disease surveillance efforts coincide with international standards for polio

3. Workers are able to detect and respond to every polio case reported

Thanks to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative that began in 1988, over 2.5 billion children have been immunized against the polio virus. The CDC, Unicef and WHO and several national governments worldwide were able to decline the number of cases by over 99% since 1988. Fundraising efforts by many organizations, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, have also been key to polio prevention for several nations. The hope is that in 2014, cases of this debilitating disease will continue to decrease so that families worldwide can lead productive lives.

Maybelline Martez

Photo: The Hindu
World Health Organization, FTDC, BBC

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