After a year of setbacks, the fight against polio continues to struggle

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

And now for a post on a health topic, since I am, after all, a public health professional.

We were doing so well in the fight against polio. So well. We battled it back to only four countries where it was endemic, and then three, and vaccination coverage was getting more and more extensive. That is, until the unfortunate half-baked CIA plot to use polio vaccination campaigns as a cover to find Osama bin Laden. While that certainly is not the only reason for the virus's comeback - chaos and destruction from the Syrian civil war has brought it back into the country - it has done grievous damage to the eradication effort in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Khyber Agency Paramedics Association Senior Vice President Khan Mir Mullagori told The Express Tribune workers are not ready to carry out the vaccination campaign at any cost. He said Khyber Agency Political Agent Azam Wazir had called the workers’ strike ‘unjust’ even though Wazir is yet to fulfil their demands of providing “fool-proof” security and compensating families of slain polio workers.

The officials of the political administration did not comment on the meeting.

After Jamrud, the agency’s anti-polio drive suffered another setback when workers refused to conduct a vaccination drive in Landikotal on January 2.

The political administration and health department had decided to launch a campaign in Landikotal on January 6 but postponed it when polio teams in the tehsil cited security concerns.

The spike in such refusals led health authorities to provide basic immunisation training to 200 khasadar officials recently, but they too are reluctant to take part in the campaign because of the associated risks. Khasadars shared this new task was rather perplexing as their actual job is to combat militancy; not vaccinate children.
Unfortunately, too little attention is being paid to the resurgence of the disease. Tom Paulson on Humanosphere listed polio's comeback as one of the top five neglected global health stories of the year:
With the new conflict and unraveling government, expect to read soon that polio has returned to South Sudan like it did this year in Syria. The international community, led for decades by Rotary International and more recently the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has helped many poor countries (India most notably) eliminate polio as a health threat. But conflict, chaos and poverty continue to promote the virus’ spread. Oh, and the CIA’s ill-conceived fake vaccination scheme should also be mentioned as a big help to the virus, and a great disservice to aid and health workers everywhere. The whack-a-mole nature of polio and this year’s setbacks will almost certainly renew debate as to whether this one-billion-dollar per year program targeting this single disease is the best use of limited resources.

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