Pope continues support of RI’s anti-polio work

Pope Paul; greets RI President K.R. Ravindran.
Pope Paul greets RI President K.R. Ravindran.

From Rotary International

Nearly 9,000 Rotarians from around the world attended the “Jubilee Audience” in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City on April 30 at the invitation of Pope Francis. Afterward, meeting with a delegation led by RI President K.R. Ravindran, the pope emphasized the importance of vaccinations against polio and urged Rotary to continue.

Pope Francis follows Paul VI and John Paul II in connecting with Rotary International to encourage their support of a more peaceful and compassionate world.

“It is a tremendous honor to be part of this Jubilee Audience,” Ravindran said. “Pope Francis has inspired men and women throughout the world regardless of their faith with his humble acts of kindness. His call to alleviate the root causes of extreme poverty and human suffering transcends religion, age, nationalism and politics. Rotary members from every religion, nation and creed share Pope Francis’ spirit of mercy and compassion, which inspires us to act boldly to address the most difficult challenges facing our world today.”

By virtually ending polio, promoting peace, fighting disease, providing clean water, sanitation and hygiene, supporting education, saving mothers and children and growing local economies, Rotary members are improving lives and bringing positive, lasting change to communities around the world.

Rotary and its partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative are on the brink of making global health history as polio is slated to become the second human disease ever to be eliminated. Cases of this paralyzing but vaccine preventable disease have plummeted by more than 99.9%, from about 350,000 cases a year in 1988, to 74 confirmed in 2015.

Since launching its PolioPlus program in 1985, Rotary has donated $1.5 billion and countless volunteer hours to protect 2.5 billion children in 122 countries from polio. More than 13 million people who would otherwise have been paralyzed from polio today are able to walk.

Pope Francis personally vaccinated a child against polio in Mexico in February. While he was Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis was named an honorary member of Rotary,  the first pope to receive and accept a Rotary club membership.


Another deadly attack on polio work in Pakistan

THIS IS WHAT IT TAKES -- A Pakistani health worker, accompanied by an armed security guard, administers polio vaccine to a child in Peshawar in February.
THIS IS WHAT IT TAKES — A Pakistani health worker, accompanied by an armed security guard, administers polio vaccine to a child in Peshawar in February.

Yet another deadly attack on police serving as security for polio immunization workers in Pakistan has taken place. Terrorists gunned down seven policemen in two separate attacks in Karachi today. The details are available here.

Security police and medical and volunteer staff have become frequent targets of forces trying to stop the immunization program in Pakistan and Afghanistan. the last two nations on earth where the deadly disease is endemic.

Earlier this week, this website reported on the release of $35 million to continue the anti-polio efforts led by Rotary International.

Here are links to reports on some earlier atrocities in just the past few months:

Bomb near Pakistan polio center kills 15
Taliban assassins target Pakistan’s polio vaccinators
Attacks hamper Pakistan’s efforts on polio

$35M in latest round of anti-polio grants

Children crossing the border from Pakistan to Afghanistan are given oral polio vaccine through a program implemented by Rotary International. Here, one volunteer administer the vaccine while another puts a marker on the child to show he has been immunized.
Children crossing the border from Pakistan to Afghanistan are given oral polio vaccine through a program implemented by Rotary International. Here, one volunteer administers the vaccine while another marks the child to show he has been immunized.

The hideous disease of polio once was widespread throughout the world. Now, thanks to the sustained efforts of Rotary and other organizations, it is endemic in just two countries: Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But, that does not mean the polio immunization and education efforts can be ended elsewhere. While polio is incurable, it is preventable with continued diligence.

With those facts in mind in mind, Rotary International has released another $35 million to support immunization activities and research in nine countries. The move builds on last year’s historic achievement of stopping the transmission of the wild poliovirus in Nigeria, the last place it was found on the African continent.

“We are closer than ever to achieving a polio-free world,” said Michael McGovern, chair of RI’s PolioPlus Committee. “To ensure that no child ever again suffers the devastating effects of this disease” — which includes permanent paralysis, respiratory failure, and even death — “we must all ensure that the necessary funds and political will are firmly in place in 2016.”

One of Rotary’s major partners in the fight against polio is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Here’s how it explains the need for vigilance:

“If we fail to fully eradicate this highly contagious disease, within a decade we could witness a resurgence of as many as 200,000 new cases annually. Since 2008, more than 20 countries have experienced polio outbreaks — some of them multiple times. Efforts to reach unvaccinated children are often hampered by security risks and geographic and cultural barriers. Furthermore, vaccination campaigns cost approximately $1 billion per year, a price that is not sustainable over the long term.”

The distribution of funds:

  • $11.4 million, Pakistan
  • $6 million, Afghanistan
  • $5.5 million, Nigeria
  • $4.1 million, Ethiopia
  • $2 million, Chad
  • $1.8 million, Somalia
  • $1.6 million, Cameroon
  • $1.6 million, Iraq
  • $618,000, India
  • $355,000, to general polio research

In Pakistan and Afghanistan, there have been periodic reports of militant groups attacking, and sometimes killing, polio vaccine distributors and their security personnel. The rationale for such attacks varies, ranging from claims that the vaccine is a Western ploy to render recipients to reproduce to claims the American CIA uses the immunization program to carry out spy activities. In mid-January, terrorists killed 15 security personnel in Pakistan at an immunization clinic.

“Vast improvements [in polio eradication] have been seen in Pakistan, with more than 80% fewer cases in the country than in 2014,” McGovern said. “To stop polio in Pakistan in 2016, we must ensure the safety of vaccinators to reach every child.

“Our release of $35 million in grants … signals our determination to finish the job to which thousands of courageous individuals have committed themselves, and to never forget the sacrifices made by those who lost their lives in this effort.”



Pope lends a hand to anti-polio efforts

Pope Francis administering polio vaccine.
Pope Francis administering polio vaccine in Mexico.

During his recent visit to Mexico, Pope Francis gave encouragement to Rotary International’s global battle to eradicate polio by publicly giving the oral vaccine to a child.

“While we realize that Rotary doesn’t support any religions, rest assured that having a world leader administering the vaccine provides awareness that the disease still exists, that something is being done about it, and that children still need to be vaccinated until we can declare the world polio free,” said Jon Stillman, a member of the Initiative for Pediatric Palliative Care (IPPC).

At the moment, only two countries in the world have endemic cases of polio — Pakistan and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, both of them are places where terrorists regularly assault and even murder volunteers who administer the oral vaccine to children and the policemen who guard them, claiming the medical care is part of a CIA plot.

Some younger generations may not fully realize the impact of the success against polio because they have not lived in a time in which the contagious disease that causes physical deformities, paralysis, respiratory distress, and even death was widespread and a common fear in the U.S. and elsewhere.

The need to continue vaccination programs globally is paramount because there is no cure for polio, only prevention. Even a small breakout can quickly spread in this era of easy travel between nations.

RI condemns Pakistan terrorist attack

Earlier this week, we posted a news story on the latest terrorist attack on a polio vaccine clinic in Pakistan. (You can scroll down to read it, or simply click here.) Here is the official comment from Rotary International on the situation.

Rotary condemns attack on polio security staff in Pakistan
Rotary members and ouScreen shot 2016-01-16 at 2.50.30 PMr partners in the fight to eradicate polio offer our heartfelt condolences and express a deep sadness in the wake of a horrific bomb attack in Quetta, Pakistan, that took the lives of at least 15 security personnel.
This attack outside a polio immunization center is a stark reminder of the dangers faced by Rotary, our partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, and the brave women and men on the front lines of our effort to protect all children from the paralyzing effects of polio.
While the bombing will be investigated, one thing is clear: The security personnel who were killed died because their job was to protect teams of polio immunizers. We applaud the government’s commitment to continue the vaccination campaign throughout Pakistan, which is one of only two countries where the poliovirus is still endemic. [Afghanistan is the other.]
Today, we pause to honor the sacrifice made by the heroic police officers killed. Yet our 30-year commitment to end polio remains steadfast. Even as we absorb the horror of this bombing, we are redoubling our efforts to educate families and build confidence in the safety of polio vaccines, and to engage community and religious leaders to support our campaign.

Violence increases against anti-polio workers in Pakistan, terrorists vow even more attacks

Crime scene investigators collect evidence at site of suicide-bomb attack.
Crime scene investigators collect evidence at site of suicide-bomb attack. (Reuters photo) 

• Pakistan, one of only two countries where polio is endemic, continues to see violence aimed at people connected with anti-polio efforts that have been supported for decades by Rotary International. Here, from today’s edition of The New York Times and from the news service Reuters, is the latest report.

QUETTA, Pakistan — At least 16 people were killed on Wednesday in a suicide bombing outside a polio vaccination center in this southwestern Pakistani city, officials and witnesses said.

Thirteen of the victims were police officers, said Syed Imtiaz Shah, a senior official  with the Quetta police.Two civilians and a paramilitary police officer also were killed, and 10 police officers and nine civilians were wounded. Shah said the officers were there to guard polio workers, who often are attacked by Islamist militants in Pakistan.

A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, Muhammad Khurrasani, claimed responsibility for the attack on the militants’ behalf. In addition, Ahmed Marwat, who identified himself as a commander and spokesman for Jundullah, another terrorist group that often works with the Taliban, said,  “We claim the bomb blast on the polio office. In the coming days, we will make more attacks on polio vaccination offices and polio workers.”

Africa declared polio-free after 25-year push

Nigerian children who have been vaccinated. (WHO photo by T. Moran)
Nigerian children who have been vaccinated. (WHO photo by T. Moran)

The news that the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) has certified the nation of Nigeria free from polio means the continent of Africa has conquered the dread disease. This is the first time that Nigeria has interrupted transmission of wild poliovirus.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), the public-private partnership — of which Rotary International is a member —  leading the effort to eradicate polio, called this a “historic achievement” in global health. Nigeria has not reported a case of wild poliovirus since 24 July 2014, and all laboratory data have confirmed a full 12 months have passed without any new cases.

As recently as 2012, Nigeria accounted for more than half of all polio cases worldwide. Since then, a concerted effort by all levels of government, civil society, religious leaders and tens of thousands of dedicated health workers have resulted in Nigeria successfully stopping polio. More than 200 000 volunteers across the country repeatedly immunized more than 45 million children under the age of 5 years, to ensure that no child would suffer from this paralysing disease. Innovative approaches, such as increased community involvement and the establishment of Emergency Operations Centres at the national and state level, have also been pivotal to Nigeria’s success.

Polio, which can cause death or  lifelong paralysis, has now been stopped nearly everywhere in the world following a 25-year concerted international effort. It remains endemic in only two countries – Pakistan and Afghanistan. The eradication of polio globally now depends primarily on stopping the disease in these countries. As long as polio exists anywhere, it is a threat to children everywhere.

Stillwater students fighting polio

Students from Stillwater Elementary School participating in Mechanicville Rotary’s “Purple Pinkie Day” this week came up big in the fight against polio.

Their efforts raised enough money to provide 885 lifesaving vials of polio vaccine for children at risk in the still-endemic countries of Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

If you haven’t read about Pakistan’s latest effort to overcome reticence shown by families to anti-polio vaccine programs, scroll down for the New York Times report.

Pakistan: Police pushing anti-polio vaccinations

From The New York Times of 2/28/15

Determined to curb Pakistan’s polio crisis, police officials in the northwestern province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa said Friday they have issued hundreds of arrest warrants for parents who refuse to vaccinate their children.

“There is total determination on our part,” the deputy police commissioner for Peshwar, Riaz Khan Mahsud, said in an interview. “We shall convince parents of the good of vaccinating their children, but if they refuse we shall detain them. There is no leniency.”

Last year, 306 new polio cases were reported in Pakistan, breaking the country’s previous record high of 199 new cases in 2000. Dr. Imtiaz Ali Shah, head of the government’s polio monitoring group in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, said the outbreak was particularly bad in two northwestern tribal regions, North Waziristan and South Waziristan, remote areas that have been havens for militants from Al Qaeda and the Taliban and their allies, making them mostly inaccessible to vaccination teams.

Pakistan worsens as world’s hotbed of polio

A Pakistani health worker gives a polio vaccine to children in Lahore, Pakistan.
A Pakistani health worker gives a polio vaccine to children in Lahore, Pakistan.

• From Mint News

KARACHI, Pakistan — The number of reported cases of polio crossed the 200 mark in October, confirming Pakistani health officials’ worst fears: The viral disease is out of control there.

In 2012 and 2013, polio cases were down significantly — 58 and 93, respectively. However, when Pakistan reported its 212th case last week, it shattered its own 14-year record of 198 reported cases in 2011.

Reproaching Pakistan, which is considered polio’s last refuge, Dr. Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), told a high-level meeting at the U.N. General Assembly in September: “Pakistan is the single most important stumbling block along the road to ending polio, once and for all.”

Polio is spreading within Pakistan’s borders, with cases reported in Karachi, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Lahore. Yet Dr. Durry Elias, the head of the WHO’s polio team in Pakistan, is worried it will soon spread to other countries and the 25-plus years of eradication work “will all come to naught.”

In Nigeria and Afghanistan, the other two countries where polio remains endemic, there has been a marked decrease in reported cases this year: Nigeria has reported six and Afghanistan 12.

The majority of the cases in Afghanistan can be traced back to the virus strain in Pakistan, Elias told MintPress News.

Go here for the full story.

[You’ll notice this excerpt is from Mint News. That is an independent online journalism start-up that launched in February 2013 to provide what it calls “issue-based original reporting, in-depth investigations and thoughtful analysis of the most pressing topics facing our nation and it’s foreign policy through the lens of social justice and human rights. … We also believe in journalistic independence of our reporters, and a truly independent media that is NOT influenced by advertisers or donors.”]