Thursday, March 27, 2014

Polio free!!! but many "question marks" remain


Congratulations to all 10 countries who passed (India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Maldives, and Sri Lanka are the SAsian nations, also Burma, South Korea, Indonesia, Thailand, and East Timor).

Given India's pathetic condition it was considered to be the last frontier for polio. The fact that the job was done at all is nothing short of a miracle.

However celebrations need to be tempered with caution. Polio has now spread westwards to Syria from Af-Pak (via jihadis who plan to set up a drone-free forward base from which to attack Europe/West), it can just as easily spread eastwards as well.

The symbol for polio eradication is Rukhsar Khatun the last victim who still needs treatment and (as noted below) her "future is still a question mark." 

Not to mention, question marks for millions of Rukhsars living a virtual death sentence as dictated by the merchants of death


She has become the greatest symbol of India's valiant -- and successful -- effort to rid itself of a crippling and potentially deadly disease. Rukhsar, 4, is the final documented case of polio in India.

Her face has appeared in newspapers and on television. She's been invited to national events by Rotary International, the organization that led the effort to rid India of polio. She is a literal poster child, an inspiration, a symbol of a feat that no doctor or health official thought possible even a few years ago.

Apart from the publicity, though, Rukhsar's life has hardly changed, her future still a question mark.

She is used to seeing health officials and reporters arrive on foot at her home in Shahpara, a village in the Indian state of West Bengal. On the day we visited, she dressed herself in a long green printed dress, marred only by a tear at the shoulder. She oiled her hair and pulled it back with plastic barrettes. She did it all herself when she learned we were on our way.

Her parents, Abdul Shah, 32, and Shobejan Begum, 30, blame themselves for their child's suffering. They had their other children vaccinated, but not Rukhsar. She was a sickly child, in and out of hospital with liver infections and diarrhea. They thought it safer not to subject her to more medication.

It wasn't until little Rukhsar's right foot swelled and twisted in early 2011 that her parents took her to a hospital in nearby Beleghata for tests. She was just 18 months old when doctors confirmed the worst: Rukhsar had polio.

Polio is caused by a virus that attacks the brain and spinal cord cells that move joints and muscles.  
About one-third of those who contract polio in India are left paralyzed -- as was Rukhsar.

"Everything was our fault," explains her father. "I thought she would never walk again."
The World Health Organisation officially certified India and 10 other Asian countries free of polio on Thursday, a milestone lauded as a “momentous victory” over an ancient scourge.

The Southeast Asian region, which includes India but excludes Afghanistan and Pakistan, was certified by a panel of experts after the countries went three years without reporting a single new case.

The WHO said the certification meant 80 per cent of the world's population lived in polio-free regions and was an important step towards global eradication of the crippling disease.

“This is a momentous victory for the millions of health workers who have worked with governments, nongovernmental organisations, civil society and international partners to eradicate polio from the region,” said WHO Southeast Asia regional director Poonam Khetrapal Singh.

The certification is particularly significant in India, home to 1.2 billion people, and which until 2009 still accounted for half of all cases globally.

The certification confirms one of India's biggest public health success stories, accomplishing something once thought impossible, thanks to a massive and sustained vaccination programme. India celebrated the milestone on January 13 – which marked three years since the last reported new case in the country, that of a teenage girl in a slum in the eastern city of Kolkata.

India reported 150,000 cases of paralytic polio in 1985, and 741 new infections that led to paralysis in 2009. In following year, the number of new victims fell to double figures before the last case in January 2011. 

India's poor sanitation, mass internal migration and dilapidated public health system made many experts believe it would be the last country to eradicate the disease, if at all.

The countries certified Thursday were India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, South Korea, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and East Timor.

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