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Polio Is Nearly Wiped Out. Covid-19 Could Halt That Progress


The world's total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases is closing in on 5 million. But an accidental side effect of the pandemic--an indefinite pause in the worldwide campaign to eradicate polio--could dwarf its toll by allowing the almost-vanquished disease to get a fresh start. At the end of March, on the advice of a World Health Organization panel of experts, mass vaccination campaigns against polio and measles were put on hold to prevent spreading the virus. As a result, says Dr. Michel Zaffran, WHO's director of polio eradication, "we have several millions of children below the age of 5 who remain susceptible and have not had the chance to be vaccinated." The pause benefits the fight against the coronavirus: Approximately 3,700 WHO employees, consultants, and lab personnel who staff the polio campaign in 55 countries have been loaned to the Covid-19 effort, according to Zaffran.

Afghanistan-wide Polio Vaccination Starts Next Month: UN

International Business Times

Afghanistan will kick off its first countrywide polio immunisation campaign in years next month to protect millions of unvaccinated children, the UN said Monday. The United Nations' health and children's agencies said the campaign to vaccinate against the crippling and potentially fatal disease would begin on November 8, with full support from the Taliban leadership. "WHO and UNICEF welcome the decision by the Taliban leadership supporting the resumption of house-to-house polio vaccination across Afghanistan," they said in a statement. Since the Taliban swept back into power two months ago, the UN had been talking with the group's leadership to address the towering health challenges in the country, the statement said. "The Taliban leadership has expressed their commitment for the inclusion of female frontline workers," it said.

2022 Pakistan polio vaccinations key to eradication goal: Gates

Al Jazeera

Islamabad, Pakistan – Continuing and sustained polio vaccination efforts in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2022 are likely to determine whether the world can entirely eradicate the debilitating virus, billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates has said on his first visit to Pakistan, one of the two countries where the disease remains endemic. Gates spoke to reporters at the end of a daylong visit to the Pakistani capital Islamabad on Thursday, during which he met Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, top health official Dr Faisal Sultan, and other leaders. Gates, a US-based billionaire who made his name as the co-founder of tech giant Microsoft, is also the co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is a key funder of worldwide polio eradication efforts, as well as supporting Pakistan's Ehsaas cash grant scheme for low-income families and the country's new Raast digital payments system. "I think that the steps taken in Pakistan during 2022 will probably set us up to finish polio eradication," Gates said. "Afghanistan is a little bit of a question mark, because that's a more complex situation, but the quality of health work in Pakistan, the improvements that various parties coming together, and the current data suggest it's really the work that we do in the next year or two years that will bring us to zero."

Gunmen kill polio vaccinator in southwestern Pakistan

Al Jazeera

Islamabad, Pakistan - Unidentified gunmen have killed at least one polio vaccination worker in the southwestern Pakistani area of Chaman, government officials say, bringing the death toll from a drive this week to eradicate the virus to at least three. Gunmen opened fire on a team of vaccination workers in the remote village of Sultan Zai, about 100km northwest of the provincial capital Quetta, on Thursday, said Sami Agha, a local government official. "The body of the killed polio worker and another person who was wounded have been transferred to hospital," Agha said in a statement. Security forces have launched a search operation in the area, and the polio vaccination drive in near Sultan Zai has been temporarily suspended, the statement said. Polio, a highly infectious debilitating virus that targets the nervous system of children, has been wiped out across the world, but remains endemic in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.

Attack on polio vaccination team in Pakistan tribal area leaves two dead

The Japan Times

PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN – Militants ambushed a polio vaccination team in a remote tribal region in Pakistan, killing two of the medical workers and seriously wounding another two, officials said Sunday. The gunmen also attacked tribal police and the paramilitary Frontier Corps when they responded to the attack late Saturday, killing one paramilitary and wounding another. Polio workers have come under attack on several occasions since it was revealed that the CIA used a polio vaccination campaign as a ruse to get information on al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, who was killed by U.S. commandos in Pakistan in 2011. Those revelations fed into claims by Islamic extremists that the vaccinations are part of a Western plot against Muslims. Pakistan is one of the only countries in the world where polio is still endemic, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria.