The Global Poverty Project is deeply saddened by the news today that five polio vaccinators have been killed in Karachi, Pakistan and condemn the multiple attacks responsible for this tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the vaccinators' families, as well as to the children who are right now being denied access to basic health services and interventions, to which they should be entitled to.
The vaccinators had been working to protect children in their community against polio as part of a three-day vaccination round. It follows a similar incident yesterday, in which a male polio vaccinator, also in Karachi, was killed.
It is important to note that no one has yet come forward to claim responsibility for the attack. Investigations continue and the vaccination round has been suspended in Karachi.
The loss of these polio heroes serves as a reminder of the bravery and dedication of the men and women who work under such insecurity, many as volunteers, to ensure that Pakistan’s children can be safe from this debilitating disease.
The best way we can honour their sacrifice is to ensure that all children in Pakistan receive basic health services and that polio is finally eradicated from Pakistan. To that end, the Global Poverty Project is committed to supporting global polio eradication efforts wherever it can.
Please direct enquiries through to Michael Sheldrick at michael.sheldrick (at) globalpovertyproject.com or on +61 411 513 931.
"Your visit is long overdue... you need to see this program in action yourself."
After welcoming me to India, Rod Curtis, a communications specialist with UNICEF, draws my attention to a map of the country pinned to his office wall in Delhi.
Just a few years ago, he points out, India had more polio cases than anywhere else in the world. The northern states of Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Bihar, in particular, looked like they would never succeed in ridding themselves of this ancient disease. With poor sanitation, densely populated areas and large numbers of people living in extreme poverty, UP and Bihar were the ‘perfect storm’ when it came to the spread of polio. To make things even more difficult, some communities in these states had started to refuse vaccinations altogether.
In other words, the outlook was bleak.
Yet, fast-forward to today and India has gone 18 months without reporting a single case of polio. How did this complete turnabout happen in one of the world’s most populous countries?
This is what I am in India to find out – and to witness firsthand the mammoth effort that has successfully wiped out polio. Together with the Global Poverty Project’s Chairman, Peter Murphy, and CEO, Hugh Evans, I will get to experience one of India’s polio vaccination campaigns and see what it takes to vaccinate 75 million children in just a few days.
From our discussions with Rod, we discover that one of the reasons for this extraordinary turnaround against polio was the deployment of innovative new strategies for communicating the importance of immunisation to some of India’s most marginalised and socially excluded communities. Spearheaded by UNICEF - with assistance from the National Polio Surveillance Project (NPSP), The CORE Group and Rotary International - an extensive Social Mobilisation Network (SMNet) now sees thousands of community mobilisers, mostly women, working to persuade local communities to immunise their children.
To experience the SMNet in action, we leave the UNICEF offices in Delhi behind and head to the industrial city of Ghaziabad in UP – long the epicentre of polio outbreaks in the country. Here, one doesn’t have to look too hard to see the SMNet’s impact. As we walk through the streets on the way to the immunization booths, we are soon surrounded by the shouts and laughter of the Bulawa Tolis (“calling groups”). Armed with their Rotary flags and whistles, these brigades of children are deployed to fetch other children to immunization booths.
The SMNet’s impact is also glaringly apparent in the hundreds of posters we see adorning street walls and shop windows. Featuring Bollywood megastar Amitabh Bachchan, the posters appeal to families with the message “do boond zindagi ki” (“two drops of life”). And the message seems to have gotten through. Saying, “do boond” to the surrounding children, we receive a loud, excited cry of the same words back.
Before leaving Ghaziabad, we also witness the local partnerships community mobilisers have fostered with Muslim communities – often disproportionately at risk of contracting polio due to their marginalized status – in support of immunisation efforts. Local imams and mosque announcements now actively encourage congregations to immunise their children ahead of immunisation campaigns. So successful have such partnerships been, that resistance to polio vaccination has plummeted in recent years, with few pockets of resistance remaining across the country.
Our final stop before returning to Delhi is the railway station in Patna, Bihar’s capital city, where we witness vaccinators boarding trains and immunising children before they leave the station, making sure that no child misses out.
Despite what I’ve just personally witnessed, it’s not until I return to Delhi that I fully appreciate the significance of the communication and social mobilization infrastructure we’ve just seen. Sitting in the office of NPSP’s Deputy Project Manager, Dr Sunil Bahl, I’m told the polio surveillance and social mobilization initiative “is our gift to India.” He’s right.
In the process of eradicating a terrible and debilitating disease, the polio eradication effort in India has built the capacity of health workers to respond to future health emergencies. It has developed a blueprint for reaching every last child in even the most remote, socially excluded and marginalised communities with life-saving interventions. As Dr Bruce Aylward of the WHO once said, India’s polio program has reached “the populations that always get left behind for everything… [they’ve] put a face on the kids that nobody ever sees, the population nobody knows”. And it's the thousands of community mobilisers and vaccinators who have been at the very heart and soul of this extraordinary effort. They are the real heroes of polio eradication.
The author wishes to thank Rod Curtis & UNICEF India, together with Rotary International and the NPSP for their hospitality during his recent trip to India. Thanks also to the Australian Institute of International Affairs (WA Branch) for providing the financial support that made this trip possible.
In a TED talk given by The End of Polio Campaign Manager Michael Sheldrick, he shares the monumental progress that has been made in polio eradication, and shows the importance of facing up to challenges ahead. The blog that follows is republished from The End Of Polio. You can read the original article here.
As someone who was born long after polio was eliminated in Australia, a question I frequently get asked is “why do you care about this issue?”
As a child, my only experience with polio was through vaccination. It’s hard for me to imagine that just over fifty years ago fear of this disease shut down schools and public pools around the country. But a conversation with a Rotarian from Perth gave me a small insight into the effect this disease can have on individuals, and the importance of ensuring children in our world’s most vulnerable communities are protected from its impacts.
David was just 21 when he collapsed in the middle of the street, struck down by polio. He was left in a coma for a week, and when he awoke, was only able to move one finger, and even then only barely. Over a series of excruciating months and years, David slowly recovered the use of his limbs, but never fully recovered from the disease. Pulling up his trouser leg to reveal the calliper he still wears, David’s final remark on the topic really struck me:
“I have been suffering from polio for the last 55 years of my life. I don’t need anyone’s pity, I just want us to get on and eradicate the damn thing. No child should go through what I went through.”
I was lucky enough to be born after the years of epidemics, but through David, I have begun to grasp what impact this disease has on individuals. Although the spread of polio isn’t something that affects my generation of Australians, it is a disease that continues to threaten the lives and livelihoods of those living in some of the most vulnerable communities in our world.
That’s why I’m passionate about this issue, and why the Global Poverty Project launched The End of Polio campaign. We work with Rotary International, the World Health Organisation, UNICEF and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to build the public support needed to eradicate this disease.
Global collaboration over the past 30 years has reduced polio cases by 99%, and put the end of this disease within reach. But this eradication opportunity is currently at risk, with a funding gap constraining the work of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, the public-private partnership leading eradication efforts. That's why we're calling on world leaders to support eradication.
Already, the campaign is having incredible impact. It is putting this issue back in the headlines, and grabbing the attention of decision makers in Canberra. A while ago I joined Chris Maher, the Acting Director of Polio Eradication and Monitoring Research at the WHO, in Canberra and had some really positive discussions around the opportunity for eradication with key Australian government officials.
Since we launched the campaign, more than 26,000 people have joined our call on governments to support the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, and realise the end of this disease.
Please share our campaign with friends, and join the call for world leaders to help end this disease for future generations around the world.
Today, the world marks exactly ten years since countries, civil society and the private sector all came together to launch The Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria – an innovative way of delivering aid that differed from other models.
Established in response to the terror and havoc caused by these once largely unchecked diseases, the unprecedented success of the Global Fund has transformed global health. Now, this unique public-private partnership stands as a clear demonstration of the scale of what is truly possible when we all work together.
As Kofi Annan – who as Secretary-General of the UN helped instigate the birth of the Global Fund – reflects:
'Many people said that the plan was unrealistic and the call for a war chest was a dream, but great achievements always start with a dream, and the progress we have made in the fight against the three diseases is proof that dreams can be realised.'
And the ‘proof’ is staggering. Since its inception in 2002, grants from the Global Fund have saved nearly 8 million lives. That’s an estimated 100,000 lives saved each month! Further, in the fight against AIDS alone, 6.6 million people in low and middle-income countries are on AIDS treatment, up from 200,000 a decade ago. Even more amazingly, access to AIDS treatment has increased over 3000% since the beginning of the Global Fund.
True, the Global Fund has not been without its challenges, as the occasional allegations of corruption illustrate. But there can be no denying that the Global Fund has – according to an independent high-level review – “made ordinary and expected what was unthinkable in dozens of nations ten years ago.”
Yet, as it celebrates its 10th birthday, the Global Fund’s live-saving work is at risk of grinding to a halt. As we reported back in November, the GF Board was recently forced to cancel its next round of grant-making and to announce that it would not be making any new grants for the next two years. This decision was made following the default by several donor countries on their payments to the Fund.
There can be no doubt that the Fund’s decision will adversely affect the progress that has been made over the last ten years. By cancelling its next round of grants, the Fund will effectively be forced to turn away new patients. This is a tragedy that must be prevented.
Key donors like the US, UK and Australia - crucial to the Fund’s success – should maintain, if not increase, their financial support now more than ever. Perhaps more importantly, they should also do everything they can to encourage new donors and ensure other existing donor countries keep their commitments.
Indeed, it would be a shame for all of humanity if, after coming so far, we let the progress made over the last decade be reversed. As Hilary Clinton said back in November: “To sit on the sidelines now would be devastating. It would cost lives, and we would miss out on this unprecedented opportunity. When so many people are suffering, and we have the means to help them, we have an obligation to do what we can.”
October’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) heralded important progress in the fight against polio, for a number of reasons: one of which has managed to fly below the radar.
The morning after The End of Polio Concert, at a Special Press Conference called to discuss polio eradication, five world leaders together with Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, pledged an additional $118 million to global polio eradication efforts: providing crucial funding which will help the Global Polio Eradication Initiative purchase much needed vaccines; identify, respond to, and mitigate new outbreaks of this debilitating disease.
But this press conference also featured a second, equally important, non-monetary commitment, when the leaders of Nigeria and Pakistan – two of the remaining four endemic countries – affirmed their commitment to addressing the spread of polio in their communities.
President Jonathan of Nigeria promised the world “that in the next two years, we will eradicate polio”, and Prime Minister Gilani of Pakistan pledged that his Government would utilise all possible resources regarding polio eradication – commitments that will be absolutely critical to the success of eradication efforts – and to progress in the broader fight to stop preventable disease and tackle extreme poverty.
Although less likely to make the headlines, strong political buy-in and leadership is just as crucial as funding when it comes to the achievement of eradication targets. This highlighted in one of the most significant polio success stories of recent times: India.
India is considered a ‘perfect storm’ when it comes to the spread of polio: birth rates are high, populations are dense, and sanitation is terrible. These conditions make it ripe for polio to spread. But despite these challenges, by getting local officials involved in vaccination efforts, India has made such incredible progress tackling the disease that not a single case of polio has been reported in the country since January this year – offering the very real possibility that India will be considered polio free within the next few years.
Strong national and local leadership is also referenced as one of the key factors that has helped Nigeria achieve its remarkable reduction of polio by 95% since 2009.
While they don’t attract the fanfare of a multi-million dollar commitment, October’s CHOGM commitments will be key to advancing the fight against polio. In fact, we’re already seeing them take effect: since Prime Minister Gilani’s announcement, Government officials who fail to meet performance targets in Pakistan’s eradication program have been threatened with tough action, and chief ministers and other local leaders have been urged to make polio eradication a priority.
This high level leadership is crucial to achieving eradication goals, particularly in Pakistan, which has the highest number of polio cases amongst the four remaining polio endemic countries. And achieving further buy in from local leaders will also be critical. Indeed, according to the World Health Organisation’s analysis, it may be a game changer, with findings suggesting low levels of viral persistence correlate with high levels of local leadership.
As Former British PM Tony Blair recently pointed out in the Washington Post, effective development “requires action on all sides.”
That’s why here at the Global Poverty Project we will celebrate October’s important political commitment, and continue to campaign for both financial and political action. We’ll also continue to campaign for systemic change on trade and governance rules – to ensure that governments are held to account for their promises and commitments to their citizens.