FEATURED PHOTOS AND STORIES

Wednesday - April 26, 2017

Two new flags will be flying high at the Olympic Games in Rio.

(Kosovo's Majlinda Kelmendi. © AP)For the first time, South Sudan and Kosovo have been recognized by the International Olympic Committee. Kosovo, which was a province of the former Yugoslavia, will have 8 athletes competing; and a good shot for a medal in women's judo: Majlinda Kelmendi is considered a favorite. She's ranked first in the world in her weight class.

(South Sudan's James Chiengjiek, Yiech Biel & coach Joe Domongole, © AFP) South Sudan, which became independent in 2011, will have three runners competing in the country's first Olympic Games.

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Entries in WHO (12)

Tuesday
May212013

The World Health Organization's `World Health Assembly' - Takes Place in Geneva this Week (REPORT) 

Sixty-sixth World Health Assembly:  daily notes on proceedings  

Notes: Monday, 20 May 2013

World Health Assembly opens with focus on the Post Millennium Development Goals Agenda 

The Sixty-sixth World Health Assembly opened this morning with the election of Dr.  Shigeru Omi, Special Assistant for International Affairs, Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare of Japan, as its new president. Five vice-presidents were also appointed from Angola, Haiti, Oman, Ukraine, and Nepal, representing their respective regions.

Last 1,000 days for MDGs and the path forward 

In his message, which was read by Mr. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Director-General of the United Nations Office in Geneva, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon drew attention to the positive effect the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have had on the global health agenda. He noted that the Health Assembly will discuss a number of MDG-related issues, such as implementation of the Global Vaccine Action Plan and recommendations from the UN Commission on life-saving commodities for women and children. He described the pressing challenge presented by the rise in non-communicable diseases, highlighting the role of universal health coverage in ensuring equitable access to health services. He emphasized the continuing need for WHO to handle unforeseen global health events, such as newly emerging viruses.

Dr. Omi observed that reform of WHO, the topic of tomorrow’s plenary discussion, aims to make the Organization more relevant, more effective and more dynamic.

Watch the President’s speech on video

Opening address of the WHO Director-General

In her opening address, WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan reiterated the importance of transparent reporting and vigilance in disease outbreaks, including recent cases of novel coronavirus and influenza H7N9, whilst at the same time maintaining the momentum made in addressing long-standing health issues such as tuberculosis, HIV, malaria; the emerging problem of non-communicable diseases; and eradication of polio.

Dr. Chan reiterated WHO’s refusal to work with the tobacco industry. However, she did not exclude the opportunity for cooperation with the food and beverage industry to address non-communicable diseases, while supporting existing safeguards which ensure no conflicts of interest.

Read the Director-General’s address to the Sixty-sixth World Health Assembly

Watch the Director-General’s address

Health in the post-2015 global development agenda

Member States then moved into a plenary discussion about health in the post-2015 global development agenda, noting the critical links between health and sustainable development. Delegates spoke of the need to both build on existing progress made towards the Millennium Development Goals and to address evolving health challenges, notably non-communicable diseases. Many focused on the need to better address equity issues, echoing the UN Secretary General and WHO Director-General’s comments about the potential for universal health coverage to reduce inequities. Many also referred to the importance of measuring for both quality and quantity when monitoring progress.

Delegates began discussions on a draft global action plan for the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases (A66/9). The action plan comprises a set of actions which, when performed collectively by Member States, UN organizations and other international partners, and WHO, will set the world on a new course to achieve nine globally agreed targets for NCDs (A66/8), including a reduction in premature mortality from NCDs by 25% in 2025. The action plan also contains a monitoring framework, including 25 indicators to track mortality and morbidity; assess progress in addressing risk factors, and evaluate the implementation of national strategies and plans.

A drafting group, co-chaired by Pakistan and the United States of America, will negotiate the final text of a resolution and discuss outstanding issues of the draft action plan. The Assembly will resume discussions on this issue later in the week.

----For more visit the World Health Organization website.

 

Monday
Aug062012

"Saving the World From Madness" (REPORT) 

 

(Video: Sound bites from speakers at the UN WHO Meeting to launch the Quality Rights Tool Kit/NIA SPOONER)

By Dr. Judy Kuriansky

*Recently, the United Nations World Health Organization launched the Quality Rights Tool Kit, which supports countries in assessing and improving the quality of mental health care as a human rights condition. and civil society actors gathered together to lend their support to the project and to discuss how to promote the use of the Tool Kit in countries.  Dr. Judy Kuriansky was there to chronicle the discussion for HUMNEWS.

FACT:   Globally, one in four people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. Poor quality services and human rights violations in mental health facilities and social care homes are an everyday occurrence in many countries around the world. People living in mental health facilities are often exposed to inhuman and degrading treatment and many are subject to physical, sexual and emotional abuse. As a result, people with severe mental health conditions in some countries die as much as 10 years younger than the general population. (Source: WHO)

(DRAWING: ArtTherapy) “Derogatory words are used to describe us, such as mentally disturbed, having unsound minds, idiots, lunatics, imbeciles and many other hurtful labels,” declared Mrs. Robinah Alambuya of Uganda, to an invited audience of about 100 health professionals, UN agency officials, the UN Foundation academics, representatives of nongovernmental organizations, journalists and guests.  The diverse group was gathered at the Millennium Hotel Diplomat Ballroom in New York City, across the street from the main United Nations headquarters, for an event sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO) highlighting abuses in the mental health care system and to launch a landmark product, the WHO QualityRights Toolkit, to address the problem.

“These words and the beliefs from which they derive, devalue us and form the basis of discrimination and the loss of inherent dignity,” Alambuya said. 

SHOWING RESPECT

Representing African women and the voices of survivors of people with psychiatric and psychosocial problems in Africa, Alambuya made a plea for respecting those who deal with mental health distress. In her role as President of the Pan African Network of People with Psychosocial Disabilities monitoring inhumane health care systems, she applauded WHO’s efforts to insure those rights in her keynote speech.

The `Tool Kit' is an awareness and training campaign to provide the public, the private sector,  and government groups with actionable steps to stop human rights violations against people with mental health conditions, in order to improve the quality of care and to promote human rights as including mental health.

The recommendations can be implemented in developing and developed nations by all stakeholders, and even includes those with mental disabilities themselves.

"IT CAN HAPPEN TO ANYONE"

Dr. Michelle Funk, Coordinator of Mental Health Policy and Service Development in the Mental Health and Substance Abuse department at WHO, pointed out the extent of the problem with "One in four people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime," she said.

Suicide is among the top three cause of death in young people aged 15-34 worldwide. Qualified caregivers are scarce with less than one psychiatrist serving 200,000 in almost half the world populations. Yet poor quality services and human rights violations are pervasive in social care homes and mental health facilities where patents are often exposed to inhuman and degrading treatment. And worse, to physical, emotional and even sexual abuse. 

“It is a scandal that still today many mental health facilities are places of violence and harmful treatments practices rather than places of care and support," said Funk. “One of the most important points to note about this tool kit is that it establishes the key standards that need to be met in all inpatient and outpatient mental health and social care facilities across the world.” She went on to praise the role of the governments of Spain and Portugal in providing funds to help produce the toolkit.

NOTABLE ADVOCATES

Panelists at the June 28th event represented a wide range of perspectives about the issue, including UN and government officials, an African woman with disabilities, and a former prisoner from the slums of India.

Hollywood film producer Gary Foster described his evolution to become a mental health advocate when producing the film “The Soloist“ - a true life story about a former cello prodigy who developed a mental health condition and became homeless on the streets of Los Angeles. Foster, who also produced “Sleepless in Seattle” and "The Score” spent time on skid row where he discovered that all people have “dream for success.”  

Serving as an important example of how the campaign goals can be accomplished, Ambassador Carlos Enrique Garcia Gonzalez, Deputy Permanent Representative of El Salvador to the UN, described his government’s recent advances in ambitious health care reform, including a social development component with a human rights approach - pointing out how abuses of mental health are not an isolated issue, because mental health care extends to all facets of society, and is integrally tied to attitudes and poverty. 

Often times, people with psychosocial disabilities become homeless, are abandoned by their families, and are detained against their will by authorities - neglected in inferior conditions. Therefore, mental health services need to encompass access to decent work, education and quality of life. 

Panelist Julian Eaton, a psychiatrist and mental health advisor from the West Africa Office of CBM in Togo, discussed how "the value of technology in such a campaign, particularly the use of mobile phones, is revolutionary". 

The initiative builds on WHO’s Mental Health and Development Report, published in 2010 and is also based on the framework of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which asserts that “human rights standards that must be respected, protected and fulfilled in all facilities”.

(Video: WHO)

A short film was shown of cruel and deplorable conditions in a care center, showing emaciated patients, chained to beds, crying out and lying in excrement. Ambassador Gonzalez pointed out that mental health workers themselves, who have to work in substandard conditions, are another victimized group. 

As a psychologist who has worked in many mental health institutions with psychiatric patients, I asked Michele Funk whether a solution would be to allot needed funds for improvements in these facilities.  “No", she responded, “They must be shut down, and new ones opened.”

CRITICS, SUPPORTERS

While generally lauded, the Toolkit is not without criticism.  Alambuya expressed concern about the emphasis on a medical model of service delivery that does not adequately take into account the social problems faced by persons with mental disabilities, saying, "The voices of people with disabilities must be heard, using the popular phrase, `Nothing about us, without us'”.

(PHOTO: Adolescents are generally perceived as a healthy age group; yet an estimated 10-20% of them experience a mental health problem/WHO)In a powerful close to the panel, Gregory David Roberts, speaking from personal experience of his being imprisoned and overcoming drug abuse, the author of the best-selling novel “Shantaram”  recounted the story of a fellow inmate - mentally challenged - who had been abused by the other prisoners; and who despite consistently smiled.  One day the man found unhatched eggs, and put them under his armpits until they hatched.  The baby pigeons became valued and protected in the jail, eventually taming hard-hearted cruel prisoners.  The experience prompted Roberts to learn lessons about his shame for not defending the man, and about the power of people of mental disability to transform others.

Roberts recounted another story of a mentally challenged young man who would have been arrested had it not been for the community people who chained him up near them, where he could be cared for and protected from arrest,  underscoring his point that community-based programs are key.

More launches of the toolkit campaign will be held to gain more visibility for the project.

“Everyone should have access to mental health care,” said His Excellency Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, President of the sixty-sixth session of the United Nations General Assembly. Recommending mainstreaming of mental health care, he noted that his own state of Qatar introduced a resolution to the UN General Assembly to introduce and International Day of Autism"If we all consider human rights together," he said, “We can make a difference.”  

- Dr. Judy Kuriansky is the Main United Nations NGO Representative for the International Association of Applied Psychology and a member HUM's Board of AdvisorsA licensed clinical psychologist in the Departments of Clinical Psychology at Columbia University Teachers College, she is world renowned as a humanitarian who has led workshops on peace, trauma recovery, crisis counseling and on her unique East/West intervention programs around the world, from Argentina to India, Singapore, the Czech Republic, Israel, the UAE, and Iran. She has worked in disaster relief and psychological first aid at Ground Zero after 9/11, after SARS in China, bombings in Jerusalem, earthquakes in Australia and Haiti, the tsunami in Sri Lanka and the tsunami/earthquake in Japan, information about which is on www.DrJudy.com. An award-winning journalist and accomplished author, she is a tireless advocate for media which sheds light.

Wednesday
May232012

Malaria spread feared as WHO releases action plan to tackle global spread of insecticide-resistant mosquitoes (REPORT) 

(Video World Malaria Day, 2012/WHO)

By Amy Maxmen

The war to bring malaria to heel has made slow but steady progress during the past decade, with the overall mortality rate dropping by more than 25% since 2000. A key factor in this progress has been improved control of mosquitoes, which transmit the Plasmodium parasite — a potent killer that claimed an estimated 655,000 lives in 2010 alone. But health officials fear that the spread of insecticide-resistant mosquitoes could bring about a resurgence of the disease. To help combat this threat, on May 15, the World Health Organization (WHO), based in Geneva, Switzerland, issued a strategic plan to curb the spread of resistance.

“We don’t want to wait for failures to happen,” says David Brandling-Bennett, the senior adviser for infectious diseases at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, Washington, who advised on the document.

Such failures could reverse the recent drop in malaria mortality credited to insecticide spraying in the home and coating of bed nets, which save about 220,000 children’s lives each year, according to the WHO. Insecticide resistance could also result in as many as 26 million further cases a year, the organization predicts, costing an extra US $30 million to $60 million annually for tests and medicines.

The WHO report says that insecticide-resistant mosquitoes already inhabit 64 malaria-ridden countries (see map).

The problem is particularly acute in sub-Saharan African countries such as Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Ethiopia and Uganda, where mosquitoes are frequently resistant to compounds known as pyrethroids and even to the organochloride DDT, venerable tools of mosquito control. Because they are extremely safe for children, effective against mosquitoes and affordable, pyrethroids are the only insecticides used to treat bed nets, as well as the first choice for household spraying.

Health authorities in Somalia, Sudan and Turkey have also reported sporadic resistance to the two other classes of insecticides recommended by the WHO for safe and effective household spraying: carbamates and organophosphates. Resistance has probably evolved several times independently, and is now spreading as extensive use of pyrethroids and other insecticides favors resistant mosquitoes. “In 2004, there were pockets of resistance in Africa, and now there are pockets of susceptibility,” says Janet Hemingway, chief executive of the Innovative Vector Control Consortium (IVCC), a product-development partnership based in the United Kingdom.

(MAP: Global malaria map, 2012/WHO) Among other things, the WHO recommends rotating the classes of pesticides used to spray houses, and developing safe and effective non-pyrethroid insecticides that can be used to treat bed nets. To implement all of the WHO’s suggestions would cost $200 million - on top of the $6 billion that the WHO requested last year to fund existing malaria-control programs. Rob Newman, director of the Global Malaria Program at the WHO, hopes that the report will draw more funds to the table as donors grasp the situation. “If we can stop pyrethroid resistance from spreading, it will be cheaper in the long run,” Newman says.

“In 2004, there were pockets of resistance in Africa, and now there are pockets of susceptibility.”

But the two largest players in malaria aid - the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the US President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) - have not yet pledged additional money to fight resistance. Their spending on mosquito control is already high - in 2009, 39% of the Global Fund’s malaria expenditures went towards insecticide-treated bed nets and household spraying, as did 59% of the PMI’s in 2010.  

For now, pyrethroids are the only class of insecticides approved by the WHO for bed nets, and where spraying is concerned they are less costly than the alternatives. Vestergaard Frandsen, a company based in Lausanne, Switzerland, says that it has in the pipeline a bed net coated with a non-pyrethroid insecticide - one that does not belong to any of the four WHO-approved classes - and that the company expects to bring this to market within the next five years. It is also one of several companies partnering with the IVCC to create innovative mosquito-control products.

(PHOTO: Malaria `home test'/NoProphalactics)In the meantime, health officials may be able to keep malaria at bay by swapping insecticides. The report notes that in Colombia, for instance, mosquitoes regained susceptibility to pyrethroids after five years of treatment with an organophosphate. But some African countries lack the surveillance needed to spur such an approach. To address that deficiency, the report urges that a global database be set up to track the spread of resistance, and that entomologists be trained and hired at surveillance stations. That could prove the most challenging goal of all.

“Nobody wants to fund capacity building,” says Newman. “Donors would rather say they purchased $10,000 in bed nets than pay a salary.”

African ministers of health realize the need to manage resistance but can’t do much without outside funds, explains Maureen Coetzee, a medical entomologist at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. “In some countries, malaria control means one person sitting in one room, and he’s lucky if he’s got a chair,” she says.

- This report originally appeared by Amy Maxmen at Nature.

Tuesday
May082012

The WHO must reform for its own health (PERSPECTIVE) 

(Video WHO video for World Health Day, April 7, 2012)

By Tikki Pang and Laurie Garrett

The World Health Organization (WHO) is facing an unprecedented crisis that threatens its position as the premier international health agency. To ensure its leading role, it must rethink its internal governance and revamp its financing mechanisms.

The World Health Organization was born in the bifurcated Cold War world in 1948, and every aspect of its charter, mission and organizational structure was molded by diplomatic tensions between NATO and the USSR. However, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of the new emerging market superpowers, the WHO finds itself trying to straddle a global dynamic for which it was not designed.

Indeed, the WHO now finds itself marginalized in a crowded global health landscape characterized by poor coordination among multiple players. It is no longer the only major actor. At the same time, it faces an internal crisis, with major budget shortfalls and staff layoffs that have resulted in the organization embarking on the most radical reforms in its 64-year history. But the changes do not go far enough. A recent dialogue on WHO reform that we participated in, held by the Council on Foreign Relations in New York in February, identified several key challenges that should be addressed by the agency.

(GRAPH: Flag of the WHO) First and foremost, the WHO should refocus on its original aim of being primarily a 'knowledge broker' that gives advice and information about best practices but stops short of directly implementing programs. It should convene negotiations resulting in internationally binding legal agreements and monitor their implementation. Some of its most successful achievements - such as the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the International Health Regulations and the International Classification of Diseases - fall into this category.

The means by which such agreements are reached has changed, and the organization needs to adapt. In 1948, the WHO acted as a knowledge-and-standards broker between states, working almost exclusively with ministries of health and government leaders. In the twenty-first century, however, the WHO's credibility and relevance depend on its ability to exert a normative influence through the Internet, informing the global citizenry about all aspects of health - from relevant treaties to drug safety to disease outbreaks. Currently, the organization's website, is nearly impossible to navigate, akin to a well-stocked library with no catalog system. It needs an overhaul to be useful to the global citizenry.

The WHO not only needs to better communicate and coordinate with its global partners; it also needs to make improvements within, starting with its internal governance. The organization must enhance the relationship between its Geneva headquarters and its powerful regional offices. Guidance from Geneva is sometimes ignored, even contradicted, by the regional directors and their offices. Although the WHO was born with a clear top-down leadership structure, it has morphed over the decades into something closer to a partnership: Geneva 'suggests' policies that its regional partners may accept, ignore or amend. It is often difficult to tell whether the tail is wagging the dog. For example, the Pan American Health Organization, which is one of the regional offices of the WHO, may choose to design and implement a Chagas disease eradication strategy having sought little or no input from Geneva. To avoid tensions, the organization should more clearly apportion 'core' versus 'support' roles played by the various parties.

(PHOTO: Dr. Margaret Chan is the Director-General of WHO, appointed by the World Health Assembly on 9 November 2006/WHO)The internal changes must also involve improved finances. In 1990, the agency was by far the largest player on the global health field, with an annual budget of nearly $1.2 billion; the next biggest budget at the time was that of US government global health programs, which totaled $850 million. By 2010, the WHO's budget, after years of increases, fell back to that 1990 level, making it the fourth largest spender in the global health landscape, behind the now-mammoth $7.5 billion US program, the $3 billion Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the $2.2 billion collective pile of smaller nongovernmental organizations. This year, the WHO seems to be falling further behind in the hierarchy, trailing the GAVI Alliance and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Until recently, the WHO garnered more than 80% of its budget in the form of voluntary donations, largely given by the wealthiest countries for earmarked programs. The agency's core support is derived from proportional levies on member nations, which have remained unchanged for years despite the rising costs of WHO operations. Moreover, the WHO's revenues are received in US dollars, but its Geneva operational and payroll costs must be met in Swiss francs. Because the WHO has not practiced currency hedging, a 32% increase in the value of the franc against the dollar, as occurred in 2011, cannot be accommodated without severe institutional fiscal pain.

In addition to practicing currency hedging, the WHO must identify a range of financing innovations with a goal of increasing institutional resilience. Such financing mechanisms may include, for example, the establishment of an endowment fund, a multiyear financing framework, or the use of a Robin Hood tax, which reaps financing from miniscule taxation of very large currency transactions. Both of these options were highlighted by a 5 April report from a consultative expert working group convened by the WHO.

And, like any multibillion-dollar company, the WHO should have an effective 'marketing' strategy built around rigorous, external evaluations that demonstrate the value of its activities.

The world needs an aggressive and scientifically solid health leader. Governance and the setting of normative standards cannot be accomplished with a slew of loosely connected health initiatives, nongovernmental organizations and bilateral programs. The only entity with a charter, a legislative body and a mandate to fill that role is the WHO, and it must do so decisively.

--- This commentary originally appeared in NATURE.  Tikki Pang is a visiting professor at the National University of Singapore and former director of Research Policy & Cooperation at the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland.  Laurie Garrett is a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, NY, USA.

Saturday
Aug132011

Polio Victim on Front-lines of War Against Crippling Disease in Nigeria (EXCLUSIVE REPORT)

Mallam Aminu Ahmed Wada. In 1965, a few years after polio vaccine was widely available in the west, he was struck by polio. Both of his legs are completely paralysed. He moves on two wooden crutches which are just a few inches high. His mobility depends on the strength of his arms and shoulders. CREDIT: M Bociurkiw/HUMNEWS(HN, August 13, 2011) - Even amid the congestion and chaos of Nigeria's second-largest city, it's almost impossible to miss the roadside property of the Kano Polio Victims Trust Association.

Scrap metal, wheel-chairs, and small, custom-made motorized vehicles for polio victims seems to stretch for as far as the eye can see.

One of the first people to greet you will be Mallam Aminu Ahmed Wada, polio victim-turned-campaigner. His association started about a decade ago with just a few members and now has more than 2000.

In the mid-1960s, a few years after polio vaccine was widely available in the west, Wada was struck by polio. Both of his legs are completely paralysed, and he moves on two wooden crutches which are just a few inches high.

As Wada speaks, sparks fly all around him as welders work wonders with metal pieces to construct these amazing devices. Some are simply plastic lawn chairs on bike wheels, with hand-operated controls for steering.

The devices transform the lives of polio victims, allowing them to travel to job, classes - and around the dusty streets of Kano.

The NGO buys scrap metal and transform it into wheel-chairs, motorized chairs and crutches for polio victims - which are then sold to the state government and others. Part of the association's work is to employ people struck by polio; Rotary International is one of its key supporters.

Wada is a tireless campaigner for polio eradication. He often travels with vaccination teams, urging mothers to vaccinate their children against the crippling disease that has struck thousands of kids in Nigeria, particularly the north.

"Look at me," Wada begs watching mothers during one rally. "Do you want your children to be like me? Please vaccine them."

In 2003, Islamic leaders in northern Nigeria organized a boycott of polio vaccinations, claiming that the vaccines were a Western plot to infect Muslims and make them infertile. But an enthusiastic campaign by UNICEF and others has helped to reduce the case load.

But total polio elimination - the hope of campaigners ranging from Wada to billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates - appears elusive. In Kano alone there have been six cases in the last three months, according to a HUM correspondent in West Africa.

Wada's son, Umar, was also paralysed by the virus in 2004. This was the time Kano State completely rejected polio vaccine because of the boycott. "I woke up in the night to find Umar's leg was weak," says Wada. "We took him to the hospital, but there was nothing we could do." 

Wada, and his wife Hadiza, have nine children. Hadiza is also a polio victim and moves around on crutches.

These devices transform the lives of polio victims in the northern Nigerian state of Kano. CREDIT: Christine McnabAlthough the numbers of cases have plummeted - last year there were only about 20 recorded cases -Wada is the first to tell you that there is no room for complacency. Recently, he presented a non-motorized wheelchair to a young polio victims in Kano state during the launch of a vaccination campaign.

Polio (poliomyelitis) mainly affects children under five years of age. One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis (usually in the legs). Among those paralysed, 5% to 10% die when their breathing muscles become immobilized, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

There is no cure for polio, it can only be prevented. Once polio strikes, it cripples the victim for life. Prevention is primarily through polio vaccine, administered multiple times.

Only four countries in the world remain polio-endemic, down from more than 125 in 1988. The remaining countries are Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan.

With files from Christine Mcnab

Tuesday
May312011