Posts Tagged ‘ World Health Organization ’

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~

Killing of infants on the rise in Pakistan

By Raza Sayah for CNN

At a morgue in Pakistan’s largest city, five linen pouches — each the size of a loaf of bread — line the shelf of a walk-in freezer.
Wrapped inside each small sack is the corpse of an infant.

The babies are victims of what one relief agency calls Pakistan’s worst unfolding tragedy: the killing and dumping of newborns.
“Sometimes they hang them, and sometimes they kill by the knife, and sometimes we find bodies which have been burned,” said Anwar Kazmi, a manager at Edhi Foundation, Pakistan’s largest privately run social service and relief agency.

Records at Edhi Foundation show that more than 1,200 newborns were killed and dumped in Pakistan last year, an increase of about 200 from the previous year.

Families view many of these children as illegitimate in a culture that condemns those born outside of marriage.
Statistics show that roughly nine out of 10 are baby girls, which families may consider too costly to keep in a country where women frequently are not allowed to work.

The babies are usually just days old. Their corpses are often dumped in Karachi’s sprawling garbage dumps, where they’re sometimes mutilated by street animals, Kazmi said. He estimates that hundreds of baby corpses are never found.

The head of Edhi Foundation, 83-year-old Abdul Sattar Edhi, blames Pakistan’s crippling poverty and a government that, for decades, has failed to educate the masses, generate jobs and provide citizens with the most basic needs.

“The distribution of resources by the government is wrong,” Edhi said. “Many people don’t pay taxes; there’s no charity, and what you get from the government is all based on your wealth.”

The Pakistani government has said it’s improving education, but 55 million Pakistanis remain illiterate, according to the United Nations. And the government is billions of dollars in debt while entangled in a costly fight against the Taliban and other Islamic militant groups. The killing of newborns gets little attention in Pakistan, and rarely are they investigated by a police force that’s often poorly trained, lacks resources and stays focused on what’s perceived to be more important crimes.

In many parts of the world, female infanticide is still practiced through direct violence but also by intentional neglect, according to the World Health Organization.

In some Asian countries, infanticide of girls is enough to skew the population figures in favor of males. The United Nations found, for example, that there are 130 boys to 100 girls in parts of Asia, especially in countries with extreme poverty and overpopulation such as China and India.
“Girls are seen as a burden, seen as a property which belongs to somebody else so people see that as a waste of money and the wasting of an education of a girl,” said Bhagyashri Dengle, executive director of Plan India, a nonprofit for children. “Then when the girl gets married, the families have a big, heavy dowry. So that is one of the reasons here.”

Dengle said awareness and education at the grass-roots level are ways to combat this practice. “I think we really need to reach out to young people (to) create an awareness, to change attitudes and dispel the notion that having a boy is better than a girl,” she said. “We launched this program ‘Let Girls Be Born’ — that campaign is reaching out to masses using televisions, through newspapers and through (the) Internet. What we are trying to do is positive messaging on the girls. That girls aren’t a sect; they are as good as boys.”

In Pakistan, until things improve, the Edhi Foundation said, it will keep more than 300 cradles in front of its offices throughout Pakistan where families can drop off unwanted newborns. The foundation cares for them and puts them up for adoption, no questions asked.
“It’s for awareness — that please don’t kill your innocent babies,” Kazmi said.

Millions of Pakistani Kids Risk Waterborne Disease

By Asif Shahzad for The Associated Press

Five-year-old Shahid Khan struggled to remain conscious in his hospital bed as severe diarrhea threatened to kill him. His father watched helplessly, stricken at the thought of losing his son — one of the only things the floods had not already taken.

The young boy is one of millions of children who survived the floods that ravaged Pakistan over the last month but are now vulnerable to a second wave of death caused by waterborne disease, according to the United Nations.

Khan’s father, Ikramullah, fled Pabbi just before floods devastated the northwestern town about a month ago, abandoning his two-room house and all his possessions to save his wife and four children.

“I saved my kids. That was everything for me,” said Ikramullah, whose 6-year-old son, Waqar, has also battled severe diarrhea in recent days. “Now I see I’m losing them. We’re devastated.”

Ten other children lay in beds near Khan at the diarrhea treatment center run by the World Health Organization in Pabbi, two of whom were in critical condition.

Access to clean water has always been a problem in Pakistan, but the floods have worsened the situation significantly by breaking open sewer lines, filling wells with dirty water and displacing millions of people who must use the contaminated water around them.

Children are more vulnerable to diseases such as diarrhea and dysentery because they are more easily dehydrated. Many children in Pakistan also were malnourished before the floods, weakening their immune systems.

The Pakistani government and international aid groups have worked to get clean water to millions of people affected by the floods and treat those suffering from waterborne diseases. But they have been overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster, which has displaced a million more people in recent days.

The floods started in the northwest in late July after extremely heavy monsoon rains and surged south along the Indus River, killing more than 1,600 people, damaging or destroying more than 1.2 million homes and inundating one-fifth of the country — an area larger than England.

Some 3.5 million children are at imminent risk of waterborne disease and 72,000 are at high risk of death, according to the United Nations.

The World Health Organization set up the diarrhea treatment center in Pabbi about a week ago with the help of several other aid groups. Workers have already treated more than 500 patients, mostly children, said Asadullah Khan, one of the doctors.

Some of the patients have been treated multiple times because broken sewer lines have contaminated the water in the town’s wells and pipes, said the doctor. “It is circulating the disease again and again,” he said.

The aid groups set up a similar treatment facility several days ago in Nowshera, a city adjacent to Pabbi that was also engulfed by the floods. Residents who have begun to return in recent days have encountered a scene of total destruction: caved-in houses and streets covered with mud and debris.

Most of the population lacks access to clean water, and mosquitoes have proliferated in stagnant floodwater around the city, raising the risk of malaria. Government help is nowhere to be found.

“It is trash, dirt, germs and odd smells everywhere,” said Zahid Ullah, whose 3-year-old and 10-year-old sons were being treated for gastroenteritis at the facility in Nowshera. “It is a big danger.”

Even at the hospitals where the diarrhea treatment centers have been set up, mobs of flies hovered around the patients despite attempts by staff to kill them.

The World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund appealed to the world on Saturday to provide water purification units, family hygiene kits and other items needed to increase access to clean water in Pakistan.

Guido Sabatinelli, the head of the World Health Organization in Pakistan, said the international community’s help was critical to help Pakistan avoid a second wave of death from waterborne disease.

“We are fearing the epidemic of disease,” said Sabatinelli. “Access to safer water, potable water” is critical, he said.

Asma Bibi couldn’t agree more. The young mother searched in vain for clean water on the outskirts of Nowshera as her feverish 2-month-old son, Ehtesham, sweltered in a tent set up for flood victims. They had run out of water the day before.

“My son is sick. He hasn’t breast-fed in two days,” she said. “He needs milk. He needs water.”

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