Violence, vaccine fears keep polio from disappearing

by Jean-Louis Santini

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 ," said Oliver Rosenbauer, spokesman for the '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 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 sterilize Muslims.

Dozens of 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 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 immunization 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 , 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."

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

India marks 1 year since last polio case

Jan 13, 2012

(AP) -- The top U.S. health official administered polio vaccination drops to children in New Delhi on Friday as India marked one year since its last case of the crippling disease.

Fall in polio vaccination refusal cases in Pakistan

Oct 22, 2012

Pakistan has witnessed a sharp drop in the number of families refusing to get their children vaccinated against polio, officials said Monday, while lamenting that nearly half a million children were left unvaccinated.

Egypt to vaccinate after polio found in sewer (Update)

Jan 24, 2013

Egypt will carry out a vaccination campaign for children in parts of Cairo after polio was recently found in the capital's sewage, believed to have been brought to the country from Pakistan, a Health Ministry official said ...

Polio virus found in Egypt linked to Pakistan

Jan 21, 2013

Pakistani health officials Monday called for infants leaving the country to be issued polio vaccinations at airports after virus samples linked to a southern Pakistani city were discovered in Egypt.

Recommended for you

Dutch Ebola aid ship finishes West Africa tour

42 minutes ago

The European Union says a Dutch aid ship is finishing its tour of the three West African countries hardest hit by the Ebola epidemic, docking in Liberia to deliver supplies including medical equipment.

ECOWAS trains health workers to fight Ebola

3 hours ago

West Africa's regional bloc ECOWAS said on Sunday it will train 150 health workers this week to help tackle the deadly Ebola disease in the worst hit countries; Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

US looking past Ebola to prepare for next outbreak

13 hours ago

The next Ebola or the next SARS. Maybe even the next HIV. Even before the Ebola epidemic in West Africa is brought under control, U.S. public health officials are girding for the next health disaster.

Can robots help stop the Ebola outbreak?

22 hours ago

The US military has enlisted a new germ-killing weapon in the fight against Ebola—a four-wheeled robot that can disinfect a room in minutes with pulses of ultraviolet light.

New bird flu case in Germany

22 hours ago

A worrying new strain of bird flu has been observed for the first time in a wild bird in northern Germany, the agriculture ministry said Saturday.

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

88HUX88
not rated yet Mar 25, 2013
while the developed world still has some way to go on vaccines http://whatstheha...ial.html

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.