When Ray Hilfiker was 10 years old, he was diagnosed with polio. Now 73 and living in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, he shared his story with sixth graders at a local middle school. Even at a young age, he said he was fearful of passing the illness on to his relatives, so he opted to write them letters from the hospital ward, which he shared with 10 other boys. Many of the students had never heard of polio, and listening to Hilfiker’s story was their first encounter with the illness. Thelast confirmed caseof polio in the United States happened nearly a decade ago.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has passed guidelines stating that all trivalent polio vaccines in India be immediately removed from the market so that it can be be replaced with the bivalent version of the vaccine. However, the new drugs won’t be available until April 25, which has some doctors and other members of the medical community concerned, since this could lead to a gap in coverage of the life-saving drug. According to reports, some 25,000 infants in the city of Surat could remain unvaccinated until the transition date, however the lapse in coverage only applies to private hospitals and clinics, public facilities will be able to administer the vaccine during the interim period.
In the last year-and-a-half, Nigeria hasn’t seen a single child become paralyzed due to the wild poliovirus. The WHO officially removed the African nation from its polio endemic list late last year, but Nigerian leaders are quick to say that, in order to maintain their status, the country will need to continue to be vigilant about vaccinating its citizens. Over the past 30 years, polio eradication has been an important part of the continent’s health infrastructure, and a well-trained cohort of healthcare workers have been working vigilantly to bring the vaccine to far-reaching communities that often get overlooked. Officials say that, to keep the future bright for its children, the nation should continue its fights against polio.
During a panel discussion at an aid and development conference held earlier this week in Dubai, officials discussed the latest collaboration between the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). One of the panelists, Hassan Al Damluji, head of Middle East relations for the foundation, said that despite the increase in population in the area in the last year or so, the number of polio cases worldwide has fallen from 350 in 2014 to 74 as of last count. He credits much of this to the work of the foundation in educating the public on the importance of receiving the polio vaccination. In addition, the foundation has been working with the public on sanitation initiatives, such as toilet hygiene and the importance of having access to a clean water supply. The foundation has earmarked $400 million for projects spanning 31 countries, focusing on nations where citizens lack access to sanitary facilities, and is pushing for 2016 to be the year when polio is eradicated for good.
In Peshawar, a provincial capital in Pakistan, parents of 5,740 children have refused to allow workers to immunize their children against polio. While this may sound alarming, their actions are not anything new. In the Pakistani city of Bannu, officials report that 2,316 children did not receive the oral vaccine, and in Lakki Marwat, also in Pakistan, 1,175 children were prevented from receiving the life-saving vaccine. Other cities in the area where parents refused the inoculation of their children include Charsadda, Nowshera, Tank, Karak, DI Khan, Mardan, Mansehra, Kohat, Haripur, and Hangu, bringing the total number of unvaccinated children to more than 12,000. Officials say that they’re currently working with parents to educate them about polio and the benefits of receiving the vaccine. The massive push to vaccinate comes as part of a national immunization drive, which kicked off on March 14.
In as little as a month, Ukraine could become the only country in the world without protection from polio due to delays in licensing a new vaccine. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that healthcare workers in the European country will be unable to continue administering an older version of the vaccine beginning next month once the batches have expired. Led by the WHO, the global polio eradication initiative is a worldwide switch from trivalent polio vaccines to biovalent vaccines. However, Ukraine is the only country out of 155 in the world that hasn’t prepared for the switch. According to reports, Sanofi Pasteur, the manufacturer of the vaccine, applied for a license in February to supply Ukraine with the new vaccine, but received resistance from the country. In recent months, there’s been a push by healthcare lobby groups to resist complying with the initiative after two children were paralyzed by the illnessduring a rare vaccine-derived outbreak. Ukraine’s health ministry says that the main reason for the delay in licensing is due to the lobbyists’ anti-vaccination campaign, and that pushing the paperwork through will be “an uphill struggle.”
During a presentation this week at a chapter event for the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Waterford, California, Emily Barberi recognized the two women who helped cure her polio as a child. Barberi, who is now 73 years old and serves as a chairwoman for the organization, honored Sister Elizabeth Kenny and Dr. Ethel Calhoun, two pioneers in the fight against the crippling illness. During her speech, Barberi explained how Sister Kenny became world famous for her unorthodox approach to battling polio, and how she came to the United States from Australia in the 1940s to spread her knowledge. Together with Dr. Calhoun, the two women were assigned to Barberi’s case and prescribed a regimen of hot packs and physical therapy, a treatment plan that contradicted the medical norm of bed rest and immobilizing limbs. Despite facing discrimination for being two women in a field dominated by men, they were able to radically change the thinking of how to treat polio patients, and through their care, Barberi made a miraculous recovery from polio in just three months.
Earlier this week, a family in Dera Ghazi Khan, Pakistan, set their dog on a healthcare worker who visited their home to administer the oral polio vaccine to their child. According to reports, Shehzad Baig and his family refused to allow their child to be immunized by Nasreen Kausar. When Kausar warned the family that they could be arrested for resisting the life-saving vaccine, they released their dog on her. She was taken to the nearest hospital, however the extent of her injuries is unknown. Police confirm that a suit has been filed against the family. This is the second dog attack on polio workers this week. On Wednesday, dogs attacked two polio workers in Ghar Pehanja after they tried to immunize children in the village.
A UNICEF representative has confirmed that the Japanese government has approved a nearly $3 million grant for a polio eradication program in Pakistan, one of two countries with confirmed polio cases– the other being Afghanistan. During a press conference earlier this week, UNICEF representative Angela Kearney stated that the grant will enable Pakistan’s government to procure 16 million doses of the oral polio vaccine (OPV) for door-to-door immunizations in areas of the country where the virus is believed to still be lurking. Since 1996, the Japanese government has contributed more than $135 million to Pakistan to help fight against the deadly virus. During the conference, Kearney confirmed that UNICEF is working with the Pakistani government on proper storage of the vaccinations, and would be providing technical support during the immunization push.
Despite officially being polio free since 2014, Indonesia is doing another large push to vaccinate the country’s children during National Polio Immunization Week, which began earlier this week. During a news conference in Jakarta, Indonesian Health Minister Nila Moeloek said the country plans to immunize 23.7 million children, starting from newborn to 5 years of age, during the weeklong event. Because the country is home to the world’s largest Muslim population, Indonesia’s Ulema Council released an edict earlier this year stating that immunization is allowed in Islam, so long as the vaccine’s ingredients are made using halal sources.