Polio focus at World Health Assembly
The global emergency to end polio was evident this month from frontline to executive floor. UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake travelled to Chad and Rotary International President Kalyan Banerjee to Afghanistan to recognize the urgent actions taken in those countries to eradicate polio, despite the complex challenges in each. At the frontline, millions of vaccinators and social mobilizers fanned across west Africa for the first synchronized polio campaigns of the year in that region and held national immunization days in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
It’s official, India has been removed from the list of polio-endemic countries. From the 125 countries in the world that were infected with polio when the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) began, there are now only three left that have never stopped transmission. Further positive news is that the last six months have seen the lowest number of cases globally to have been recorded during this six-month period in the last ten years. That said, there is still a lot of work to be done until the world is polio free – particularly given the upsurge in cases in Nigeria and Pakistan during that same period. The GPEI needs all the support it can get to see this done.
It was a sad start to the year with the loss of Bob Keegan, former deputy director of the Global Immunization Division at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who passed away on 16 January. We dedicate this issue to Bob, who was mentor and inspiration to many polio eradicators, with his courage, professionalism, grace and good humour. Rotary International is busy preparing for the organization’s birthday celebrations the week of 23 February. Once again, Rotarians around the world will mark the occasion by lighting up globally recognisable landmarks with the “End Polio Now” message.
While we wait for the final case count for 2011, we can look back over the year as one of mixed success and setbacks. One success will go into the history books: India has gone 12 months without reporting a case of polio. However, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria saw increases in cases compared to 2010. Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo made serious inroads against their re-established transmission, yet Chad continues to account for a high number of cases. Type 3 case numbers are down to lowest-ever levels, yet we suffered new outbreaks in five countries. Cases from outbreaks in previously polio-free areas declined significantly, but some outbreaks persisted such as that along the Uganda/Kenyan border.
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