WHO Reports Polio Setback

At the same time that some countries are complaining that the polio vaccine is dangerous, the World Health Organization announced in January that new cases of polio had been discovered in two African countries where WHO had previously labeled the disease as eradicated.

Polio cases were discovered in both Benin and Cameroon in early January, apparently having spread from Nigeria. Nigeria still experiences about 300 cases of polio annually and Muslim leaders in northern Nigeria have led a local fight against the polio vaccine saying it contains hormones that are used to sterilize girls.

Sources:

West Africa Polio Cases a Setback for WHO’s Eradication Plan. UN Wire, January 12, 2004.

UN says polio is spreading to countries where it had been eradicated. Press Release, United Nations, January 9, 2004.

Fears of Polio Vaccine Grip Nigeria

The World Health Organization’s goal of eradicating polio worldwide by 2005 ran into a major obstacle in October 2003 when three Nigerian states suspended polio vaccination over fears that the vaccine could cause AIDS, cancer and infertility.

The largely-Muslim northern states of Kaduna, Kano and Zamfra ordered a stop to a WHO-sponsored vaccination program. Reuters quoted Dr. Datti Ahmed, president of Nigeria’s Supreme Council for Sharia Law, as saying,

A lot of documents have come into our possession indicating there are grave doubts and concerns about the safety of the oral polio vaccine being used in Nigeria. We therefore called on the authorities to suspend the immunization program and investigate these fears.

WHO representatives dismissed such objections saying the polio vaccine was safe.

Unfortunately, Nigeria is one of only 7 countries where the disease is still prevalent and many children there are not vaccinated. Authorities worry that the disease could expand from Nigeria into surrounding countries. According to WHO representative Dr. David Heymann,

In some parts of Nigeria, only 13 percent of children have been vaccinated, largely because of the fears about it that have been disseminated. Nigeria is now exporting the disease. It has already cost Nigeria’s five neighbors $13 million to launch their own campaigns against it and that could go up to $20 million if it is confirmed that Chad has cases.

The government set up a group to test the polio virus, but that group dealt another setback to the polio eradication in January when it issued results claiming it found high levels of estrogen in the polio vaccine which would render those who received the vaccine infertile.

Both the WHO and the Nigerian state dismissed these claims, but WHO’s efforts to vaccinate children in Nigeria appears to have been severely set back which bodes ill both for the children there who are unnecessarily exposed to the risk of contracting polio as well as neighboring states and the rest of the world that would like to see polio eradicated.

Source:

Health experts losing battle to promote polio vaccine in Nigeria. AFP, Friday January 9, 2004.

Nigeria orders polio vaccine tests. Associated Press, October 29, 2003.

Nigeria debates polio campaign. Anna Borzello, The BBC, December 22, 2003.

New WHO Chief Pledges to Make Polio Eradication a Priority

Newly installed World Health Organization director-general Jong-wook Lee pledged to step up efforts to eradicate polio by 2005, but the WHO might not have the funds to follow up on Lee’s pledge.

In a July press release, Lee said,

Polio eradication is a top priority. I want to see this disease gone once and for all. We have eliminated it from almost every country in the world. Now is the time to boost our action and resolve, and wipe it out everywhere. I am immediately upgrading WHOÂ’s capacity to support India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Egypt in their efforts to immunize every child against polio.”

Lee appointed SARS expert David Heymann to head up WHO’s polio eradication efforts who noted the dangers of not eradicating polio as soon as possible,

Just as with SARS, polio knows no boundaries. In January, a child was paralyzed by polio in Lebanon for the first time in ten years. That virus travelled from India. Unless we stop transmission in the remaining polio-endemic countries, polio will spread to other countries and paralyze children, potentially reversing the gains already made.

But the WHO is also begging for money, claiming that it needs an additional $210 million for polio eradication efforts or it might have to scale back its efforts to fight the disease.

In 2002, there were less than 2,000 reported cases of polio worldwide and the disease is only present in seven countries. Lee argues it would be well worth the money to eradicate the disease worldwide once and for all.

Source:

WHO faces $210M shortfall in polio fight. Jonathan Fowler, Associated Press, July 29, 2003.

WHO steps up polio fight. The BBC, July 29, 2003.

New WHO Director-General steps up global polio eradication effort, as polio threatens other countries. Press Release, World Health Organization, July 29, 2003.

World Health Organization seeks eradication of polio by 2005. Lawrence K. Altman, New York Times, July 29, 2003.

Polio Cases Increase Thanks Largely to Indian Outbreak

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in April that cases of polio worldwide increased four-fold in 2002 due largely to an outbreak of the disease in India.

In 2001 there were only 483 confirmed cases of polio which shot up to 1,920 confirmed cases in polio after an outbreak in the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. That was the single worst outbreak of the disease since the World Health Organization began its campaign to eradicate polio in 1988. Cases from the Indian outbreak constituted 71 percent of all polio cases in 2002.

Afghanistan, Egypt, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Somalia also reported cases of polio in 2002.

Source:

Polio cases on the increase. The BBC, April 25, 2003.

WHO to Launch Intensive Polio Immunization Effort in India

Following the largest polio epidemic in recent history, the World Health Organization is launching an intensive immunization effort in India. An estimated 1.3 million volunteers will go to door to door in an effort to vaccinate every child under five.

In 2002 India reported more than 1,500 new cases of the disease — easily the largest outbreak of the disease in decades. WHO had set a goal of eradicating polio by 2002, but now hopes to declare the planet free of polio by 2005.

Unfortunately, the BBC reports that the polio eradication effort faces a $275 million shortfall that could limit its immunization efforts.

Source:

UN targets polio in India. Emma Jane Kirby, The BBC, February 5, 2003.

Activists Who Hate McDonald’s More Than Polio

According to the British Medical Journal, some activists apparently hate McDonald’s more than polio and are angered at UNICEF’s deal with the former to fight the latter.

McDonald’s has an agreement with Unicef in which the international chain restaurant will distribute millions of orange boxes which children in the United States have used the past few years to raise money for UNICEF’s fight against polio. According to UNICEF’s Soraya Bermejo,

Obviously, the extra boxes will greatly increase the funds raised on behalf of children in need around the world. Like all similar Unicef activities, this one will be reviewed once we have allowed it to run its full course.

That’s not enough for activists with the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action which penned a letter to UNICEF complaining that UNICEF had,

. . . entered into a partnership with a company known worldwide for its aggressive promotion of foods that contribute to ill health and poor nutrition both in industrialized and non-industrialized countries.

Ah yes . . . the fight against polio is far less important than striking a pose against an evil corporation like McDonald’s.

Source:

Unicef comes under attack for Big Mac funding deal. Owen Dyer, British Medical Journal, 26 October 2002, p.923.