World suffers a setback, as polio outbreaks in the Middle East – are Canadians at risk?

Canada’s involvement in the global eradication of polio – is our government doing enough?

Learn more about the fight & how you can help at www.endpolio.org (Statistics: Rotary International)

Learn more about the fight & how you can help at http://www.endpolio.org (Statistics: Rotary International)

With the World Health Organization’s (WHO) declaration of polio being a “public health emergency”, the World suffers from a setback in eradicating the deadly virus. As cases of infected children increase by the day and with polio reoccurring in Middle Eastern countries; the global campaigns to end this disease are at risk. For the past four decades, we have been trying to globally eradicate polio. With 350,000 cases in the year 1988, those numbers have been decreasing over the course of years. 25 years later, the global amount of polio has dropped to 417 in 2013. However, the world is currently suffering a setback in eradicating polio. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared polio a “public health emergency”, with 68 cases so far in 2014 – nearly triple the cases this time last year! Perhaps the reason behind the disease’s outbreak is the lack of coverage it gets in the media? Are our government and politicians disregarding this global issue? Their reasoning and the cause for polio has yet to be unveiled…

Administration of the oral polio vaccine with Syrian children on the street – not a clinic. (Photo: UNICEF)

Administration of the oral polio vaccine with Syrian children on the street – not a clinic.
(Photo: UNICEF)

The international effort to eliminate the spreading of polio has redoubled. For Canada, polio eradication has been our country’s top priority in Afghanistan. In countries such as Pakistan & Afghanistan, terrorists have actively opposed against vaccination campaigns and have gone to the extreme of killing health workers, as they are against western influences. There are persistent problems of corruption, mismanagement and insecurity in these countries. However, with renewed political will and enhanced international investment, we would be able to globally achieve the eradication of polio.

The following countries have been flagged by the WHO as areas of concern for polio. (Photo: WHO)

The following countries have been flagged by the WHO as areas of concern for polio. (Photo: WHO)

Although the issue is overseas, Canadians across the country are wondering whether they are at risk. In Canada, high immunization rates are required to be protected against the importation of polio – much similar to the importation of measles. However, the concern for many surrounds the possibility of infections in individuals who cannot meet the vaccination rates. According to Dr. Michael Gardam, director of infection prevention and control at the University Health Network in Toronto, “People could literally get on a plane carrying the polio virus, not even necessarily be sick with it and bring it to Canada where we don’t have perfect vaccination rates anymore.” In addition, public health experts say that polio can only be prevented if the community is 90% vaccinated. It is advised by the Public Health Agency of Canada to keep your vaccinations updated and to keep records on hand. The reason behind this is that Canada is never zero risk.

Last year at the Global Vaccine Summit, the Honourable Julian Fantino, Minister of International Cooperation, announced that Canada would continue to be a world leader in eradicating polio and immunization. Minister Fantino announced that the Government of Canada would contribute $250 million between 2013-2018 to support the global goal of eliminating polio from the planet. The money shall ensure the supply of quality immunizations and work towards sustainable immunization programs – a key attribute for Second and Third countries in the Middle East. This commitment will certainly advance Canada’s priority development of securing the future of youth and improving maternal, newborn and child health. It also provides the opportunity for Canada to further engage itself in polio eradication.

The oral polio vaccine is simple to administer. A few drops, given multiple times, can protect a child for life. (Photo: WHO/Rod Curtis)

The oral polio vaccine is simple to administer. A few drops, given multiple times, can protect a child for life.
(Photo: WHO/Rod Curtis)

In 2011, at the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), Primer Minister Stephen Harper announced: “Our Government is committed to improving the health and saving the lives of women, children and newborns in developing countries. Support […] will help put an end to polio […] which can be prevented with a simple vaccine.” However, the big question for many is: If only a simple vaccine is required, why is the deadly disease still breaking-out to this day? In reality, despite Canada’s efforts in polio’s eradication, they’ve been inadequate and require far more attention at the federal level.

In 2008 when Prime Minister Harper announced the Polio Eradication Signature Project in Afghanistan, many Canadian political parties voiced their opinions on the newly founded project. At the time, the Liberal party supported the project and pledged to work with allies to develop “a more effective military and political strategy to improve the mission.” On the contrary, as expected, the NDP did not support the mission and were committed to withdrawing Canadian troops from their present role in Afghanistan. The Official Opposition claimed that “the situation has continued to deteriorate and Canada must refocus international efforts in Afghanistan under the UN banner.” The Green Party claimed that the counter-insurgency led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was lacking strategic focus and that it risked the lives of our military. The Green Party also claimed that air raids by NATO were diminishing support for Canadian engagement in the region. Lastly, Bloc Québécois Leader, Gilles Duceppe, thought that it required some rebalancing and that it should focus “away from combat and toward humanitarian aid, reconstruction and development effort.”

(Left) Prime Minister Harper during a news conference on Polio Eradication in Perth, Australia. (Photo: Torsten Blackwood/AFP/Getty Images)

(Left) Prime Minister Harper during a news conference on Polio Eradication in Perth, Australia.
(Photo: Torsten Blackwood/AFP/Getty Images)

What is disappointing to many is that political parties, specifically the Official Opposition and their politicians, are not saying enough about the recent outbreaks. Their opinions are quite outdated and for this reason, it is important that as Canadians, we make our voice heard and inform our local members of parliament (MP) and city councilors in support of a world without polio. It is recommended that the federal government of Canada take more action and fulfill their duty as global leaders in the eradication of polio. For this reason, Canada shall close the funding gap for 2013-2014 and inform other donor countries to join this effort. Continuing Canada’s profound relationship with WHO, Rotary International, UNICEF, as well as collaborating with other nations’ governments would further initiate polio’s eradication.

end polio

For fellow Canadians willing to play an important role in eliminating polio from the world and fulfilling their civic duty, the following steps can be taken:

  • Sign the petition at theendofpolio.com
  • Help raise awareness by educating others on polio and its eradication
  • Donate to organizations that contribute to ending polio, such as The Rotary Foundation (Canada) of Rotary International’s PolioPlus fund – endpolio.org
  • Contact your local member of parliament (MP) and city councilor in support of a world without polio

Hopefully, in the near future, if we work amongst our government and other countries– as global citizens – polio will be successfully eradicated off of our planet’s surface.

By: Purple Pansy 

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