News / Asia

Global Polio Eradication Gets Major Boost

A child receives polio drops during the polio eradication program in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh, February 19, 2012
A child receives polio drops during the polio eradication program in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh, February 19, 2012

India recently celebrated a year of being polio-free. This is a remarkable achievement in a country that until recently was recognized as the world’s epicenter of polio. India’s momentous accomplishment is boosting prospects of polio becoming only the second disease after smallpox to have been eradicated. To ensure that it remains polio-free, India is holding a second round of National Immunization Days. Between February 19 and 25, vaccinators aim to immunize 172 million children against polio.

Staff Benda Bilili, a group of eight former street musicians from Kinshasa, Congo, are singing their signature song "Polio." Four of the musicians are disabled polio victims. They sing about the disease that drastically changed their lives. They urge parents to immunize their children. They travel throughout Africa on a mission to kick polio out of the continent.

Sona Bari is external relations officer for the World Health Organization’s Global Polio Eradication Initiative. She said, "A year has passed in which no child in India has been paralyzed by polio for the first time in history."

She says India has always been considered the toughest place on earth to stop the virus. But she notes it has achieved this milestone through political will, huge funding by Rotary International, and determination and persistence by the whole society.

"India and Indians had to be committed for a decade to month after month of vaccination activities," said Bari. "House to house to vaccinate children, keeping surveillance for polio very high and finding the most remote and inaccessible populations to ensure that every last child was reached."

Now that India has stopped the transmission of the wild poliovirus, only three polio endemic countries remain - Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Bruce Aylward is WHO assistant director for polio, emergencies and country collaboration. He said the "main challenge and problems are definitely right now going to be in northern Nigeria and Pakistan."

"Basically, the whole 20-year, 10-plus-billion-dollar effort now hinges on how well some district or local government area leaders are in vaccinating their kids, and probably what would amount to somewhere around 40 or 50 districts in the entire world. It really is now coming down to that with the progress recently made in India," said Aylward.

In 2003, religious and political leaders in Kano, Nigeria, claimed the polio vaccine was part of a Western conspiracy to sterilize girls. Immunizations stopped. As a consequence, hundreds of Nigerian children became disabled and the virus spread to neighboring countries.  

Bruce Aylward says both governments and health providers have learned from this experience. All are more vigilant, and great pains are being taken to make sure communities understand the importance of immunizing their children against this dreadful disease.

A November 2011 file photo shows a youth suffering from polio walking through a doorway at the Stand Proud compound in Kinshasa, Republic of Congo
A November 2011 file photo shows a youth suffering from polio walking through a doorway at the Stand Proud compound in Kinshasa, Republic of Congo

"It is a horrific, painful, devastating disease for the child, often for the family and then often even for the communities…Once polio is eliminated, we will also eliminate an incredible barrier to development, an incredible barrier to productivity for not just countries, but obviously the communities that are affected by polio and the children that are affected by polio," Aylward said.

When WHO launched its Global Polio Eradication Initiative in 1988, 350,000 children were paralyzed or killed by this crippling disease every year. That number fell to 647 cases in 17 countries last year. WHO estimates about $10 billion has been spent on polio eradication so far. The United Nations agency says the world stands to benefit by $40 billion to $50 billion in net health savings 20 years after transmission is stopped.  

For United Nations Children's Fund Senior Health Specialist Brigitte Toure, the question is not one of if the job can get done, but when. "The big achievement of India in one year is to have demonstrated that it is possible to stop polio," she said. "You know that in the world, 99 percent of the countries have stopped polio…We are confident that we will stop this polio outbreak, but we have to work."

India’s achievement is converting skeptics into believers. The results are there for all to see. India shows polio can be eradicated if the political commitment and the money are there to bring this dreaded disease to an end.

Campaign supporters argue that too much has been invested in the polio eradication initiative to abandon it. They warn the consequences of failure are too terrible to contemplate. They say the world, once again, would be faced with hundreds of thousands of children becoming paralyzed or dying from this horrific, but preventable, disease.

You May Like

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

There is growing uncertainty over whether West’s response to ISIS is adequate More

China Crackdown on Dual Citizens Causes Concern

New policy encourages reporting people who obtain citizenship in another country, but retain Chinese citizenship; move spurs sharp debate More

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

Losing ground to Islamic State fighters, Syria's government says it is ready to cooperate with international community More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?i
X
Henry Ridgwell
August 29, 2014 12:26 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Pachyderms Play Polo to Raise Money for Elephants

Polo, the ancient team competition typically played on horseback, is known as the “sport of kings.” However, the royal version for one annual event in Thailand swaps the horse for the kingdom’s national symbol - the elephant. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Samut Prakan reports that the King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament is all for a good cause.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid