Thursday, February 02, 2017

Talking Polio February 1, 2017

Well, this was a very special show. Nightline had 2 guests in the studio from the World Health Organization for a conversation about the end of polio!

We were joined by Joseph Swan a WHO communication officer and Chris Maher.

Chris is a very impressive person on paper and in person.

Chris Maher is a Manager of the World Health Organisation (WHO) polio eradication efforts in the Eastern Mediterranean. Chris has worked in the public health sector for the past three decades and specifically in polio eradication for 21 years. He joined WHO in 1993 working on immunization. He spent the first eight years working in the Western Pacific Region, based in Manila, and his position had him covering over 30 countries. Chris has been involved in polio eradication at every level from organizing local vaccination campaigns, investigating cases of paralysis, through to running the technical elements of the global programme. Since 2000, he has led operations for polio eradication across Asia, Africa and Europe.
 Photo by Shutterstock

We had a very short hour to paint a picture of how we have gone from polio to being a huge global issue to one that is taking its last breaths because of the a global effort.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is a public-private partnership led by national governments with five partners – the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Humanity is on the verge of one the greatest public health achievements in history – eradicating polio. In 2016, fewer children have been paralysed by polio than in any other year, with the virus restricted to a few areas of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. Millions of health workers are helping us reach children who have never been vaccinated before, providing an unprecedented opportunity to finish the job. These frontline polio eradicators are not only protecting children from this entirely preventable disease but also providing tactics for other health programmes to reach the world’s most vulnerable children.

At the same time, these workers are operating in some of the most complex areas of the world, and getting to zero cases is a difficult and often dangerous task. To reach all children with vaccines and ensure the surviving virus is wiped out, the polio eradication programme needs an additional US$1.3 billion in funding. This funding will allow all countries to stay vigilant in stopping polio. When we succeed, no child will ever be needlessly paralysed by polio ever again, making it only the second human disease (after smallpox) to be eradicated in history.

In 2016, we have made strong progress toward a polio-free world, thanks to the hard work of millions of health workers, often operating in difficult conditions.

  • Fewer children have been paralysed by polio in 2016 than any other year in history, with the virus limited to a few areas in just three countries – Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.
  • We continue to hone in on the virus, with improved immunisation strategies for reaching children in complex contexts. We’ve significantly reduced the number of children missed in vaccination campaigns over the past 12 months, leading to improved childhood immunity and a decline in children paralysed by polio.
  • The virus is on the verge of eradication – two of the three wild poliovirus types are likely eradicated. India, once considered the most difficult place in the world to stop a disease, hasn’t reported any wild poliovirus cases in over five years. Outbreaks that started in 2013-2014 in challenging areas of the Middle East, central Africa and Horn of Africa have successfully been stopped.

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