Posts Tagged ‘ Nigeria ’

India Marks Milestone in Fight Against Polio

By Ravi Nessman for The Associated Press

India will celebrate a full year since its last reported case of polio on Friday, a major victory in a global eradication effort that seemed stalled just a few years ago.

If no previously undisclosed cases of the crippling disease are discovered, India will no longer be considered polio endemic, leaving only Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria on that list.

“This is a game changer in a huge way,” said Bruce Aylward, head of the World Health Organization’s global polio campaign.

The achievement gives a major morale boost to health advocates and donors who had begun to lose hope of ever defeating the stubborn disease that the world had promised to eradicate by 2000.

It also helps India, which bills itself as one of the world’s emerging powers, shed the embarrassing link to a disease associated with poverty and chaos, one that had been conquered long ago by most of the globe.

The government cautiously welcomed the milestone as a confirmation of its commitment to fighting the disease and the 120 billion rupees ($2.4 billion) it has spent on the program.

“We are excited and hopeful. At the same time, vigilant and alert,” Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said in a statement. Azad warned that India needed to push forward with its vaccination campaign to ensure the elimination of any residual virus and to prevent the import and spread of virus from abroad.

The polio virus, which usually infects children in unsanitary conditions, attacks the central nervous system, sometimes causing paralysis, muscular atrophy, deformation and, in some cases, death.

With its dense population, poor sanitation, high levels of migration and weak public health system, India had been seen as “the perfect storm of polio,” Aylward said. Even some vaccinated children fell ill with the virus because malnutrition and chronic diarrhea made their bodies too weak to properly process the oral vaccine.

In 2009, India had 741 cases. That plunged to 42 in 2010. Last year, there was a single case, an 18-month-old girl named Ruksana Khatun who fell ill in West Bengal state Jan. 13. She was the country’s last reported polio victim.

Part of the sudden success is credited to tighter monitoring that allowed health officials to quickly hit areas of outbreaks with emergency vaccinations. Part is also attributed to the rollout of a new vaccine in 2010 that more powerfully targeted the two remaining strains of the disease.

Under the $300 million-a-year campaign the government runs with help from the WHO and UNICEF, 2.5 million workers fan out across the country twice a year to give the vaccine to 175 million children.

They hike to remote villages, wander through trains to reach migrating families and stop along roadsides to vaccinate the homeless.

Philanthropist Bill Gates, whose foundation has made polio eradication a priority, hailed India’s achievement as an example of the progress that can be made on difficult development problems.

“Polio can be stopped when countries combine the right elements: political will, quality immunization campaigns and an entire nation’s determination. We must build on this historic moment and ensure that India’s polio program continues to move full-steam ahead until eradication is achieved,” he said in a statement.

Health officials are working to make polio the second human disease eradicated, after smallpox. But while smallpox carriers were easy to find because everyone infected developed symptoms, only a tiny fraction of those infected with the polio virus ever contract the disease. So while no one in India is reported to have suffered from polio in a year, the virus — which travels through human waste — could still be lingering.

That’s why the country will not be certified as completely polio-free until at least three full years pass without a case. And it is why public health advocates warn against complacency in the massive vaccination efforts.

“We are at a threshold. If we take a long step, we may be in trouble,” said Dr. Yash Paul, a pediatrician in the northern city of Jaipur who was a member of the Indian Academy of Pediatrics’ polio eradication committee until it was dismantled last year because the academy felt it was no longer needed.

Paul also appealed to public health officials to begin switching from the oral vaccine, which is easy to administer but contains live virus that can cause the disease in rare cases, to an injectible vaccine that uses dead virus.

The last time a country came off the endemic list was Egypt in 2006. If India succeeds in getting removed from the list in the coming weeks, only Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria will remain. All three saw a rise in cases last year over 2010, and Pakistan is suffering a particularly explosive outbreak, Aylward said.

In addition, 22 other countries that had eradicated the disease suffered new outbreaks. However, some of those outbreaks stemmed from polio imported from India, so getting rid of the virus here is expected to lessen such outbreaks in the future.

Dr. Donald Henderson, who headed WHO’s smallpox eradication program and had long been skeptical of the possibility of eradicating polio, said Thursday he was now hopeful the disease could be conquered across the world by the end of next year.

“You look at a series of dominoes, this is the big one. The others are definitely easier. If we can do it in India, than I’m more optimistic that we can do it in these other countries,” he said. “I’m celebrating a bit. I’ll certainly drink a glass tomorrow … and keep my fingers crossed.”

Aylward hopes India’s success will spur donors to dedicate more money to the polio fight, partly because full eradication could free up funds for other global health issues.

The WHO program needs another $500 million to fund operations for the rest of the year, and some programs could run out of funding by March, he said.

“If we fail at this point, it’s an issue of will,” he said.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– Congratulations to India on a great achievement. Despite massive poverty and numerous internal problems, India is working towards the betterment of its people, something Pakistan can learn a great deal from~

Polio in Pakistan: One more Way in Which Pakistan Fails its People

As Reported by The Economist

For a symptom of Pakistan’s problems, consider the spread of poliomyelitis. This week brought the 115th confirmed case of polio, a crippling and at times fatal disease passed on virally, mainly through bad hygiene. The tally is well up on last year.

In most countries polio is barely a memory. Rich countries had largely eliminated it by the 1970s, and many poor countries soon followed suit. Three decades ago the world saw an estimated 400,000 polio cases a year. Thanks to a cheap and effective vaccine, administered by two drops into a child’s mouth and washed down with dollops of public and private money, the annual global number is now roughly 1,000.

Only in South Asia and Nigeria is it still endemic, though it occasionally flares elsewhere. Since even wretched countries such as Sudan and Myanmar are rid of polio, doctors dream it could follow smallpox and rinderpest to become the third disease wiped from the planet. For hope, look at India. Last year it had just 44 cases of polio, down from an estimated 250,000 three decades ago. Sarah Crowe, of UNICEF in Delhi, credits “one of the biggest mass mobilisations ever for public health”. This year teams of workers headed to train stations, schools and villages, mostly in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, dosing children with vaccines and promoting habits like soapy hand-washing. Pitiful levels of sanitation persist: fewer Indians (about 50%) have toilets than have mobile phones. But this health campaign is working.

By contrast Pakistan flounders, even though the president, Asif Zardari, declared a national polio emergency in January and received help from the United Nations and the Gates Foundation. “Definitely the cases are on the rise”, says a glum Dr Altaf Bosan, who heads the government campaign.

Blame insecurity most. Three-quarters of last year’s cases were in conflict-ridden areas. The ignorance of religious leaders does not help, with their suspicion of foreign ways. Nor does poor government management. The World Health Organisation thinks that over 200,000 Pakistani children missed their polio vaccinations in the past couple of years. The worst-affected spots are Baluchistan, beset by sectarian massacres and police killings, and the unstable Federally Administered Tribal Areas near the Afghan border. Southern Sindh, deluged by two years of floods, has also been hit.

As more people migrate—because of violence, floods or economic need—the virus has travelled north, to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan and beyond. Ten polio cases reported last month in the Chinese region of Xinjiang, which borders Pakistan, were the first in China since 1999. Eastern Afghanistan also struggles with eradication, given insecurity and its porous borders. But the heart of the problem is Pakistan. Officials conceded in January that the country could be “the last remaining reservoir of endemic poliovirus transmission in the world, and the only remaining threat to achieving global polio eradication.” That is no distinction to savour.

Pakistan May Be Standing in Way of Polio’s Eradication

By Uri Friedman for The Atlantic Wire

Several Pakistani news outlets today are dissecting a troubling finding from the U.N. Children’s Fund: the 63 cases of polio diagnosed in the country so far this year are nearly double the 36 detected during the same period last year. The highly contagious viral disease, which attacks the nervous system and can cause paralysis or even death, is most evident in the province of Balochistan and has now spread to other areas that haven’t been infected for the past five years. The U.N., which is trying to eradicate the disease by delivering oral vaccines to children, says that these findings suggest Pakistan could be the “last polio reservoir worldwide”–the country standing in the way of eliminating only the second global epidemic disease after smallpox.

This isn’t the first time Unicef has made the claim. In a 2003 report, for example, the organization called Pakistan “polio’s last frontier.” But what’s particularly troubling now is that while the number of cases is dropping in India, Nigeria, and Afghanistan–which, along with Pakistan account for over 90 percent of cases–the disease is spreading in Pakistan (in fact Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has declared polio a national emergency). Pakistan’s Express-Tribune cites administrative blunders, resistance of local populations, security challenges for vaccination teams, and Pakistan’s proximity to polio-infected Afghanistan as reasons why the country appears to be losing a battle against polio that “we can simply not afford to lose.” Other reports say anti-vaccine messages from radical clerics and the absence of a national ministry of health are also to blame. The recent revelation that the CIA set up a fake vaccination program in Pakistan to collect DNA from Osama bin Laden’s family members, Reuters notes, may only make immunization drives more difficult.

All that being said, Pakistan isn’t the only obstacle preventing the international community from finally eradicating polio. In an April report, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative announced that the project, which was launched by Unicef and other organizations, didn’t have the funding necessary to reach its goal of stamping out the last remnants of the disease by 2012. The report also noted that polio had reappeared in four disease-free countries–Chad, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan–and called the state of Kano in northern Nigeria, where rumors were circulating that the polio vaccine would sterilize children, “a smouldering risk that could yet undermine the whole eradication effort.”

Pope Benedict Urges Pakistan to Repeal Blasphemy Law

By Elisabetta Povoledo for The New York Times

In a forceful appeal for religious freedom, Pope Benedict XVI urged Pakistan on Monday to repeal contentious blasphemy laws as he called on governments around the world to do more to enable Christians to practice their faith without violence, intolerance or restriction.

The pope was speaking in an annual address to diplomats accredited to the Vatican, a long-scheduled event. But this year, his words came after bomb attacks in Iraq and Egypt — the most recent in the Egyptian city of Alexandria less than two week ago — and the assassination last week of a leading Pakistani politician who had opposed his country’s law that makes blasphemy against Islam punishable by death.

The politician, Salman Taseer, had campaigned vigorously against the law and had petitioned the Pakistani government to re-examine the case of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who last November was sentenced to death under the legislation.

Mr. Taseer’s “tragic murder,” the pope said, “shows the urgent need to make progress in this direction: the worship of God furthers fraternity and love, not hatred and division.”

Referring to the attacks on Christians in Iraq and Egypt, Benedict called on the governments of those predominantly Muslim countries to adopt “effective measures” to better protect religious minorities. Urging Pakistan to repeal its blasphemy law, the pope said the legislation was being used “as a pretext for acts of injustice and violence against religious minorities.”

The pope has often spoken out against religious intolerance, but his condemnations have increased after recent attacks on Christian communities in several countries, including Nigeria and the Philippines, where churches were bombed during the recent holidays.

The plight of Christians in the Middle East has been of particular concern to the Vatican, which hosted a meeting of bishops in October to address the issue.

The concerns have deepened in recent months in the face of what clerics see as sustained violence. At a New Year’s Mass at a Coptic church in Alexandria, a suicide bomber killed 23 people and wounded nearly 100. Last October, a siege at a Baghdad church killed 53 people, prompting yet another exodus of Christians from the country.

On Monday, the pope cited a message to Christians in the Middle East that he delivered during the bishop’s synod in October. “It is natural,” he said, that “they should enjoy all the rights of citizenship, freedom of conscience, freedom of worship and freedom in education, teaching and the use of the mass media.”

The pope also took Western nations to task for marginalizing religion and minimizing its role in contemporary society and called for dialogue between faiths to promote “a common commitment to recognizing and promoting the religious freedom of each person and community.”

 

Majority of Muslims Reject Al-Qaeda

As Reported by Sandra Johnson for The Daily Mail

Muslims in many parts of the Islamic world overwhelmingly reject al Qaeda, support a large role for their faith in government and believe democracy is preferable to any other kind of political structure, according to a new survey released by Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project.

The study also found falling support for suicide bombings, as well as mixed attitudes towards Hamas and Hezbollah, Islamic groups designated as terrorist organizations by Western governments but which operate extensive social services networks in parts of the Muslim world.

The survey, conducted this spring in Jordan, Lebanon, Nigeria, Indonesia, Egypt, Pakistan and Turkey, found that only in Nigeria did Muslim populations have anything approaching a favorable view of al Qaeda, with 49 percent expressing positive views and 34 percent holding an unfavorable opinion.

At least seven in 10 Muslims had unfavorable views of the group in Egypt, Turkey and Lebanon, as did lesser majorities in Jordan and Indonesia, according to the study.

But views of Hamas and Hezbollah were more mixed. Both groups got favorable ratings from a majority of Jordanian Muslims, with 60 percent supporting Hamas and 55 percent holding favorable views of Hezbollah, Pew reported.

Muslims in every nation but Turkey expressed a positive feeling about Islam’s influence in their nation’s politics. More than nine in 10 Indonesian Muslims said its influence is positive, as did more than eight in 10 Egyptian and Nigerian Muslims. In Jordan, 76 percent of Muslims approved of Islam’s influence, as did 69 percent in Pakistan and 58 percent in Lebanon.

In Turkey, 38 percent had a positive opinion of Islam’s influence in political life.

At the same time, majorities of Muslims in every country but Turkey said they were concerned about Islamic extremism in the world and their own countries.

Democracy was favored by a majority of Muslims in every country but Pakistan, although even there it received the largest share of responses. Lebanese Muslims were most favorable toward democracy, followed by those in Turkey, Jordan, Nigeria, Indonesia and Egypt.

Support for suicide bombing had also fallen by double digits since 2002 in every country except Turkey, where it was never well-received among Muslims, according to the study.

Nigeria’s Muslim-Christian Violence Blamed For Hundreds Of Deaths

By Ahmed Saka and Jon Gambrell for The Associated Press

JOS, Nigeria — Christians and Muslims once shared their lives together in Nigeria’s fertile central belt, buying each other’s goods in mixed neighborhoods and cultivating each other’s farms across a sun-baked plateau.

But growing religious hatred, political and ethnic rivalries, and increasing poverty have led to two outbursts of savage violence already this year. Men, women, children and even babies were butchered, and that harmony seems lost forever.

Now, many people carry weapons and man impromptu road blocks, fearful of the military, the police and each other.

Sunday’s bloodshed was mostly about revenge: Christian villages near the city of Jos were attacked before dawn, less than two months after Muslims were targeted and a mosque torched. Hundreds had been killed in January, their corpses stuffed into wells and sewage pits.

Survivors of the weekend attack say simple, one-room houses were set ablaze, the flames illuminating villages that have no electricity. Residents, mostly of the minority Berom ethnic group, ran from their burning homes. Assailants with machetes were waiting. Many of those who were cut down were children. At least 200 people died.

One 20-year-old man arrested for allegedly taking part in Sunday’s attacks said his family members died at the hands of rioters in January. Of those who were attacked on Sunday, he said: “There are some people that kill all our parents. We went to avenge what they did to us.”

Nigeria, a nation of 150 million people, is almost evenly split between Sunni Muslims in the north and the predominantly Christian south. The recent bloodshed has been happening in central Nigeria, where dozens of ethnic groups vie for control of the nation’s fertile “middle belt.”

“Jos is a mini-Nigeria. All segments of Nigeria are here,” said state police commissioner Ikechukwu Aduba.

After the January violence, human rights groups said text messages had been sent with the addresses of mosques and churches. Texts also offered instructions on how to dispose of bodies. One read: “Kill them before they kill you.”

Survivors said the weekend attackers asked people “Who are you?” in Fulani, a language used mostly by Muslims, and killed those who did not answer back in Fulani.

Aduba, though, said some attackers had been paid by organizers to commit the killings Sunday, but he declined to give any specifics.

National leaders appear to have little control over this region in Africa’s most populous nation. The police and army failed to prevent these horrific massacres. Acting President Goodluck Jonathan promised security forces will bring the city and outlying areas where 1 million people live under control, but many of Jos’ Protestant Christians fear the Muslim-dominated police force and military.

Local youths armed with kitchen knives and machetes have formed self-protection gangs in neighborhoods and scrutinize each passing vehicle.

Sixty kilometers (38 miles) from Jos, in the village of Ku-Got, men armed with machetes, homemade swords, slingshots, and bows and arrows stand guard amid arid cornfields. Barricades made of boulders and cacti manned by frightened locals block many roads. Nigerian security forces rarely, if ever, patrol these areas. They’re usually beyond cell phone range and there’s no electricity.

“It’s clear these people are unprotected here. If you have to carry a bow and arrows in your own town, you are unprotected,” said Mark Lipdo, who leads a Christian foundation in Jos.

Despite once working on farms belonging to the Muslim Fulani ethnic group, the Berom people of Ku-Got now look out over the silhouetted mountains and worry that armed Fulani herders will be coming down the ridge. Villagers say they buried two old women killed by Fulani raiders Sunday. The attackers razed their homes, broke a glass pulpit at the Christian church and destroyed the community’s only satellite television receiver.

“They want to inherit the land,” said the Rev. Joshua T. Dafom, who preaches at the church. “They want to wipe us out to inherit the land to graze their animals.”

Fulani community leader Sale Bayari denied that Fulanis took part in Sunday’s killings.

He says groups of armed Fulanis now guard their herds of cattle rather than watching over their animals alone and unarmed as they once did. The men fear another “guerrilla war” against the ethnic group that left many of them dead during the January rioting.

Bayari says they are prepared: “My people have an instinct for survival,” he said.

Bayari is being sought by police for allegedly inciting the Sunday attacks. He spoke to The Associated Press by mobile telephone from a neighboring state.

Plateau state, of which Jos is the capital, has long been known as “The Home of Peace and Tourism.” It has unspoiled savannas, wild animals like leopards and hippos, waterfalls and curious rock outcroppings. But the monicker is now a sad irony.

Jos was also once a hub for tin mining, but its economic fortunes have waned in the last decades. Muslims are locked out of stable government jobs because the state views them as settlers, not Christian “indigenes.” Christians have a strained relationship with the Hausa-speaking Muslims who run businesses and live in the region.

All these tensions boiled over in September 2001 in rioting that killed more than 1,000 people. Mobs of Christian young men roved the streets of Jos, asking people if they were Christian or Muslim. When a person answered Muslim, the mob would attack with knives, machetes and sticks.

Another convulsion of violence hit in 2004, in which 700 people were killed. More than 300 residents died during a similar upheaval in 2008.

Now, instead of talk of peace, there is talk of more revenge and of pre-emptive attacks.

“Plateau state has become a jungle,” Bayari said.

War on Terror Requires Continued Muslim Support From Friends and Family of Suspects

Detroit, USA- The attempted Christmas Day foiled terror attack proved that there are terrorists out there still very much planning and attempting to carry out attacks on the United States and Europe. The alleged terrorist is a 23 year old man from an affluent family in Nigeria. The suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, boarded a plane from Amsterdam headed to Detroit, Michigan. The young man’s father, who is a prominent banker in Nigeria, had previously notified the American embassy in Lagos, Nigeria that his son may have become radicalized and he was concerned that he may carry out an attack based on his extremist views.

The American authorities had placed Abdulmutallab on a watch list known as Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE) list which has roughly 550,000 names. But despite being on this list, being denied a visa for the United Kingdom, and the fact that his father warned authorities a month ago, Abdulmutallab managed to buy a one way ticket purchased with cash, boarded a plane with no luggage, and snuck past security and screening at Amsterdam airport and almost succeeded in creating a Christmas Day massacre somewhere over the Atlantic or the United States.

The suspect has claimed to have received training and instructions from Al-Qaida operatives in Yemen, a country known for an active Al-Qaeda network called Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and is also the paternal homeland of Al-Qaeda chief, Osama Bin Laden.

It is simply good fortune that the suspect was incompetent in carrying out the detonation on his device, which authorities say would have brought down the plane. Also helpful was the fact that there were several alert and vigilant passengers who were quick to prevent Abdulmutallab from succeeding in mass murder. Despite all the technological and security advances, the last line of defense always appears to be other passengers and civilians who must heroically act to stop these fundamentalists from carrying out their attacks.

There is a good deal to be learned by American intelligence and airport security agencies to ensure that terrorist incidents like these are prevented by following the clues and connecting the dots much earlier in order to avoid a catastrophe. The various agencies of the United States from the embassies and foreign missions to FBI, TSA, and Homeland Security must work closely to identify individuals who have been placed on strict watch lists. Also needed are very stringent security procedures for international flights coming to the United States, as the majority of the terrorists have attempted to blow up planes inbound to the United States from abroad. Also, authorities must ask themselves how they did not do enough after the young man’s father himself alerted US officials to inform them he was worried his son may have become radicalized and may be planning an attack.

The obvious good news that came out of this incident is that the terrorist attack was foiled and no one was injured. A closer look at the facts should also hearten the American public that for the second straight potential terrorist incident, a Muslim family member willingly and proactively alerted the authorities regarding the suspicious activities of their family member. Just as we saw with the family of the five Washington DC men who are accused of planning attacks on the US and are currently in detention in Pakistan, we should take heart in the fact that Abdulmutallab’s father felt compelled to notify American authorities of his son’s radicalization and possible terrorist planning.

It is sad to see an uptick in the amounts of terrorist incidents in the last few months, but it is also nonetheless heartening to see that Muslim family members are willing to step forward to thwart terrorist attacks and alert the authorities whenever they have suspected them to have become extremist and radicalized in nature and planning attacks. The recent events show that the authorities must continue to rely on Muslim communities to step forward and offer any assistance they can to prevent any future terrorist attacks as authorities tighten their security procedures to continue to protect the public.

Reported by Manzer Munir for http://www.PakistanisforPeace.com

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