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.


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

State of The World’s Vaccines and Immunizations

A report by the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the World Bank concluded that 3 out of 4 children around the world now have access to essential vaccines. But, of course, that means that fully 25 percent of the world’s children are not routinely vaccinated against childhood diseases.

According to The State of the World’s Vaccines and Immunization, as many as 37 million children under the age of one are not immunized against the six major vaccine-preventable diseases of childhood: tuberculosis, tetanus, whooping cough, diphtheria, polio and measles.

Moreover, the inability of underdeveloped countries to pay for vaccines combined with ongoing property rights disputes over ownership of drugs and vaccines in such countries acts as disincentive for further research into vaccines for diseases that plague the developing world.

According to the report,

Today, vaccine manufacturers have little commercial incentive to develop vaccines against diseases such as HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria, which kill millions of people in developing countries, but relatively few in the developed world. For example, of the approximately US$600 million a year invested in HIV vaccine research, the majority comes from the US National Institutes of Health (a public sector institution). To put that amount in perspective, in 1999, research spending on drugs to treat HIV/AIDS was about US$3 billion in Europe and the United States alone. Other diseases fare just as badly. In the 1996 report Investing in Health Research and Development, WHO highlighted some of the distortions in global health research funding. At the time of the study, acute respiratory infections, diarrheal disease and TB — which together account for almost 8 million deaths a year, mainly among the poor — attracted an estimated US$99-133 million. . . By contrast, more was spent on research into asthma — an estimated US $127-158 million — which accounts for 218,000 deaths a year worldwide.

Of course the report ignores the possibility that the relatively heavy funding in asthma is what is responsible for such a low worldwide death toll, but even so the amount estimated to be spent on research into diseases that kill 8 million people is staggeringly low.


Vaccine policy leaves millions at risk. The BBC, November 20, 2002.

State of the World’s Vaccines and Immunization Report (PDF). UNICEF, 2002.

Illegal Abortions a Major Killer of Women in Ethiopia

According to the World Health Organization, complications arising from illegal abortions are now the second leading cuase of death for young women in Ethiopia. Only tuberculosis kills more young women in that poverty-stricken nation.

Abortion is illegal in Ethiopia except in cases where the mother’s life is in danger, but illegal abortions are easy to obtain and widespread. According to WHO, the death rate from illegal abortions in Ethopia is a staggering 1,209 per 100,000 abortions. In the United States, by contrast, the death rate from legal abortions is about 1 per 100,000.

A number of factors help to make the death rate so high, including a lack of access to contraception, a very low literacy rate among women (only about 14 percent of women are literate), and Ethiopia’s poverty which leads to ony about US $1.50 per person being spent on health care resources annually.


High Death Rate from Illegal Abortions. UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, October 28, 2002.

Teens Pay The Deadly Price Of Religious Taboo. Tewedaj Kebede, Panos, July 2001.

Many Ethiopian Teens Dying from Illegal Abortions. Women’s E-News, November 4, 2002.

Misleading WHO Study on Violence

Last week many news outlets reported on a study by the World Health Organization that blondes were becoming extinct — that turned out to be a hoax. No such study existed. But now WHO seems to be using a genuine report to distort the rate of homicides by intimate partners.

The New York Times summarizes the WHO report on intimate murder this way,

The study found that violence against women by their male partners occurs in all countries, regardless of economic class and religion. Data from Australia, the United States, Canada, Israel and South Africa show that 40 to 70 percent of female murder victims were killed by their husbands or boyfriends.

But the situation is not the same for male murder victims. In the United States, for instance, only 4 percent of men murdered from 1976 to 1996 were killed by their wives, ex-wives or girlfriends.

The problem with this statistic is that it makes it appear that the odds of a man being murdered by a girlfriend, wife or ex-wife is far lower than the risk that a woman will be killed by a boyfriend, husband or ex-husband.

But in the United States, the actual annual figures break out to something like 1,300 women killed by male intimates compared to about 600 men killed by female intimates. In most years, about 1/3rd of all murders by intimate partners are committed by women.

But at the same time, it is correct that only 4 percent of men who are murdered are killed by women they have an intimate relationship with. But this is because men are so much more likely to be murdered than are women. As WHO notes, men constitute approximately 3/4 of all homicide victims (in the United States, about 80 percent of murder victims are men).

Another major problem with WHO’s study on violence is that it lumps in suicide as an act of violence. Yes suicide is a problem and needs to be addressed, but somebody who wants to kill himself is not the same sort of social problem as somebody who wants to kill other people. Out of the 1.6 million victims of violence annually that WHO cites, well over 1 million of those deaths are the result of suicides.

Finally, WHO has lowballed the number of people who died as a result of violence at only 191 million in the 20th century. The complete report isn’t available online, but that figure is way too small unless WHO is playing with politics with who counts as a victim of violence.


First ever Global Report on Violence and Health released. World Health Organization, Press Release, October 3, 2002.

War, Murder and Suicide: A Year’s Toll Is 1.6 Million
. Sheryl Gay Stroberg, New York Times, October 3, 2003.

WHO Considers Changing Its Ringworm Treatment Policy

Due to the surprising results of research carried out on children in Zanzibar, the World Health Organization is considering lowering the age at which it treats children for ringworm parasites.

Infection of young children by ringworm parasites is fairly common in Africa, but WHO’s policy has been that it only treats children older than 24 months for the condition. This is because it was widely believed that ringworm infection among infants was milder than in older children and, hence, the benefit to be gained was minor.

But preliminary results from the Zanzibar study suggest that treating infants for ringworm parasites can make a significant impact on both malnutrition and anemia.

Researchers previously thought that the problem of anemia among children was due to a lack of iron in the diet, but the Zanzibar study suggests that in infants, the ringworm parasite plays a much larger role in causing anemia than previously thought.

WHO’s coordinator on parasitic diseases, Dr. Lorenzo Savioli, told the BBC that WHO is already preparing to change its recommendations on ringworm treatment which could result in millions of infants across Africa receiving medication to treat the parasite.

WHO has already investigated drugs that are used to treat ringworm to ensure they are not toxic to infants.


Child worm crackdown considered. The BBc, May 5, 2002.

Dictators, Development and Malaria

North and South Korea offer a nice look at the real sources of underdevelopment in Third World countries. That distinction was recently highlighted with word from the World Health Organization that North Korea has been experiencing a malaria epidemic over the past few years.

During the 1970s, malaria was eradicated from both countries. In 1997, however, malaria made a comeback in North Korea. The main reason is that although North Korea has a well–funded army, it does not have a well-funded water and sanitation system.

As a result, WHO estimates that last year there were as many as 300,000 cases of malaria in North Korea. WHO recently released an appeal for aid, noting that although much aid has been given to North Korea to avert famine, it also needs money to combat malaria and other problems.

South Korea, on the other hand, is prosperous to the point that it donated almost $700,000 of equipment to help its neighbor to the north fight malaria.

Both North and South Korea emerged from World War II as dictatorial societies. The North’s political system became ever more rigid and totalitarian, whereas the South’s political system gradually was forced to accept liberal democracy, both from internal and external forces.

The main problem still facing the developing world is too many regimes that have more in common with North Korea than with South Korea. A lack of democracy and political rights is a deadly combination.


WHO battles malaria in North Korea. Caroline Gluck, The BBC, April 1, 2002.