Tag Archives: World Health Organization

Preventing a Global Pandemic

A polio vaccination clinic in Pakistan.

A polio vaccination clinic in Pakistan.

The World Health Organization (WHO) yesterday warned that the increasing number of cases of polio in Nigeria, Syria, and especially Pakistan, threatened to undermine three decades of effort to eradicate the disease. Polio, which causes paralysis, muscle atrophy, and even death, was one of the most feared diseases of the 19th and 20th centuries. But the discovery of a vaccine against polio in the 1950s, combined with a massive global effort to vaccinate the world’s population against the disease, reduced the scope of the disease from hundreds of thousands to under 1,000 today.  Efforts by the Word Health Organization and various nongovernmental organizations had the world on the verge of eradicating the disease altogether. But a recent upsurge in the number of cases—and the difficulty in vaccinating some populations—has WHO concerned once again.

The biggest concerns center on Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Syria. In Syria, the ability of WHO to address a polio outbreak in the contested region of Deir Ez Zour was undermined by ongoing fighting in the country’s civil war and complicated by the massive dislocation of people caused by the conflict.  In Pakistan, attacks against polio workers, often painted by militants as western spies, undermined the ability of WHO to vaccinate children, especially in the northern parts of the country.

To prevent the spread of the disease outside the country, the World Health Organization has established mandatory immunization checkpoints at Pakistan’s border crossings and airports. Anyone wishing to leave the country will have to provide proof of immunization or be immunized before leaving the country. Similar measures were also put in place in Cameroon and Syria, which are also believed to pose a risk of spreading polio.

What do you think? Can polio still be eradicated by the 2018 goal established in 2013? Why does the number of cases of polio appear to be increasing? How does the spread of polio highlight the complex nature of humanitarian crises in the contemporary era? And what might be done to prevent the disease’s spread?

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The big story of the week has been the swine flu outbreak, which now appears to be in decline. The Mexican government has announced that the outbreak that originated there appears to be easing. While governments around the world are responding with caution, the award for the biggest overreaction goes to the government of Egypt, which announced it would cull all 300,000 pigs in the country, despite the fact that there is no evidence that of the flu in the country. Pig farmers responded angrily to the proposal, sparking confrontations with police in the capital, Cairo. The World Health Organization, meanwhile, is defending its reaction, which many have criticized as an overreaction, saying that a second wave of outbreaks could appear in the future.

In news from outside the area of H1N1 (swine) flu:

1. The conflict between the Pakistani military and Taliban militants continues. The government of Pakistan stepped up its offensive against Taliban forces in regions along the Afghan border last week. The intensification of actions against the Taliban by the Pakistani government follow criticisms raised by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the Pakistani government was “abdicating” power to militant groups inside the country.

2. Regional governments in Southern Africa, led by South Africa and Botswana, are attempting to raise funds to finance trade credits and business loans to support the new coalition government in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe’s economy continues to struggle, despite the government finally reigning in inflation last month. The power-sharing government has taken radical steps to bring the economy under control, including slashing government spending and permitting the use of foreign currencies for domestic transactions. As a result, the country had been struggling with an estimated 231 million percent inflation  over the past year. But so far Western donors, including the International Monetary Fund, have been hesitant to remove sanctions or increase aid to the impoverished country.

3. The European Union’s application for observer status on the Arctic Council was blocked by Canada last week. Canada is upset about proposed EU legislation intended to ban all imported seal products. Tensions over the status of the Arctic have intensified in recent years, as retreating sea ice resulting from climate change opens new shipping lanes and the possibility of extracting the Arctic’s vast stores of oil and gas. 

4. Despite experiencing a severe recession of its own, the government of Japan announced plans to expand financial assistance to other Asian countries. In a move intended to expand Japan’s influence in the region, the country will offer up to $100 billion in financial aid to Asian countries impacted by the global economic crisis. This announcement comes after other announcements that Japan would offer $100 billion in extra capital to the International Monetary Fund, $61.5 billion bilateral currency swap between Japan and Indonesia, and $38.4 billion in the multilateral Chiang Mai currency swap initiative. According to some observers, Japan is anxious to expand its influence in the region to counter the increasing influence of China.

5. May Day protests took place across Europe on Friday. Confrontations between police and protestors turned violent in Turkey, Greece, and Germany. The first of May is observed as International Workers Day (Labor Day) outside the United States. Increased unemployment resulting from the international financial crisis combined with growing social inequality raised concerns that protests may turn violent in countries like France and Spain as well, but no such outbreaks occurred.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

Over the past week we’ve seen a lot of news from the domestic U.S. political front: Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention, McCain’s pick of Sarah Palin for his Vice Presidential candidate.  What’s been going on in the rest of the world?  Here are five important stories from the past week.

1. The worldwide economic downturn continued last week.  On Friday, the Japanese government announced a new economic stimulus package.  Analysts are holding out little hope that it will make much of a difference.  In the United Kingdom, Chancellor Alistair Darling conceded that the current crisis will likely be “profound and longlasting.”  He forecasted that it might be the worst economic crisis faced by the United Kingdom in the past 60 years.  Similarly, figures released by the Canadian government last week show that the country is on the brink of recession, with gross domestic product growing by  a mere 0.1% in the second quarter.  All of this suggests that the current economic crisis is global in scope and potentially long in duration.

2. Ongoing political violence in Thailand last week culminated in the closure of three major international airports and blockades of the country’s rail, road, and port infrastructure.   Earlier in the week, protestors had laid siege to state buildings.  The protestors—a loose coalition of business, royalists, and activists under the banner of the People’s Alliance for Democracy—are demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and his government.  So far, the military has refused to become involved in the political crisis.

3. In an interview on Tuesday, Zwelinazima Vavi, leader of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, declared that South Africa would need to radically change its economic policies to avoid the “ticking bomb” of poverty, unemployment and crime.  Vavi is a close ally of Jacob Zuma, the leader of the African National Congress and the person mostly likely to become president of South Africa after Thabo Mbeki’s term expires next year.  Many analysts believe Vavi’s views reflect the policies favored by Zuma.  Many South Africans believe the economic policies pursued by Mbeki have not improved the quality of life for ordinary people.  His complete interview is available through the Financial Times website.

4. The North Korean government announced on Tuesday that it would suspend the processing of disabling its nuclear facilities and was considering reactivating the Yongbyon reactor.  The announcement, which North Korea maintains is a response to the failure of the United States to make good on promises made during the six party talks, raises new concerns about the effectiveness of the talks and the progress made there.  On Thursday, South Korea announced that it would drop the label “main enemy” when referring to North Korea in its biannual defense white paper.  According to Major Seo Young-suk, the decision to drop the term “does not mean that we have changed our stance.  North Korea is still a substantial and present threat.”

5. In a report issued Thursday, the World Health Organization (WHO) condemned health inequalities between rich and poor around the world, describing them as “unfair, unjust, and avoidable.”  According to the WHO “a toxic combination of bad policies, economics, and policies [was] killing people on a grand scale.”  The complete report, entitled Social Determinants of Health, is available through the WHO website.