WHO declares end of polio in the Philippines

A baby gets an oral anti-polio vaccine, Quezon City, Philippines, Sept. 20, 2019. (AP Photo)
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Updated 11 June 2021

WHO declares end of polio in the Philippines

  • Philippines was polio-free but in September 2019 announced an outbreak after dozens of people contracted the disease
  • UN says the Philippines became an inspiration to the world after robust immunization campaign despite COVID-19 challenges

MANILA: The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday declared the Philippines free from polio after no cases of the disease were reported in more than a year.

The country was previously declared polio-free in October 2000, with the last case of poliovirus reported in 1993. But in June 2019, a three-year-old from Lanao del Sur in the southern Philippines was diagnosed with the disease. Three months later, there were 31 polio cases in the country.

In September 2019, the Philippine Department of Health (DoH) announced a polio outbreak and the government, together with WHO, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other partner organizations scaled nationwide polio campaigns to stop the spread of the virus.

“Today, a day before the Philippines commemorates its Independence Day, we are celebrating freedom from polio,” WHO representative to the Philippines, Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, said in a press briefing on Friday.

Abeyasinghe said that no polio viruses had been detected in the Philippines in the past 16 months, which had led WHO and UNICEF to declare it free from polio.

“This is a major win for public health and is an excellent example of what collective efforts can attain, even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. Abeyasinghe praised the Philippine authorities for swift mobilization and engagement of both resources and communities.

Despite the challenges to immunization posed by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns, the DoH continued robust polio immunization campaigns.

“The DoH quickly launched decisive and sustained efforts to respond to the outbreak. It was a massive logistical undertaking, and thus began the country’s long arduous journey to protect every child from the crippling and possibly life-threatening disease of polio,” Abeyasinghe said.

More than 30 million doses of oral polio vaccines were administered during 13 immunization and several testing rounds in all three island groups of the Philippines. More than 11 million children were vaccinated, with many receiving multiple doses.

Abeyasinghe acknowledged the “tremendous work” undertaken to close down the polio outbreak and said that the Philippines had emerged as “an inspiration to the world that with leaders caring for children, determination, strong leadership and a focus on a shared goal.”

“Today is a defining moment for the Philippines and a quiet but important milestone for the whole world,” he said. “Until polio is eradicated in every country, no country is safe.”

Polio is a highly contagious and sometimes fatal disease invading the nervous system. In severe cases, it can lead to permanent paralysis or even death. It can be avoided with a vaccine. Children under the age of five are particularly vulnerable.

The disease remains endemic in only two countries — Afghanistan and Pakistan.


Sudan deputy leader on rare visit to Ethiopia

Updated 4 sec ago

Sudan deputy leader on rare visit to Ethiopia

KHARTOUM: Sudan’s second most powerful leader was heading to Ethiopia on Saturday, a rare visit by an official from Khartoum that comes amid border tensions, state media said.
Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, widely known as Hemeti, who is number two in Sudan’s ruling council, will be in Ethiopia on a two-day official visit to meet “several Ethiopian officials,” the SUNA news agency reported.
Daglo is head of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a much feared and powerful paramilitary unit that is accused of atrocities in the western region of Darfur.
Relations between Khartoum and Addis Ababa deteriorated due to a territorial conflict over the disputed Al-Fashaqa border region, where Ethiopian farmers cultivate fertile land claimed by Sudan.
There have been sporadic deadly clashes between the two sides in recent years.
Al-Fashaqa also borders Ethiopia’s troubled Tigray region, and tens of thousands of Ethiopian refugees have crossed into Sudan fleeing fighting.
In November, Sudan’s armed forces said six soldiers were killed in an attack by armed groups and militias linked to the Ethiopian military, a report denied by Addis Ababa, who blamed rebels from Tigray.
Sudan, along with Egypt, is also locked in a bitter dispute over Ethiopia’s mega-dam on the Blue Nile.
The two downstream countries, dependent on the river for most of their water, see Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam as an existential threat.
Both Khartoum and Addis Ababa are mired in crises.
Sudan has been rocked by weeks of mass demonstrations since an October 25 military takeover that derailed the country’s fragile transition to civilian rule, with at least 73 anti-coup protesters killed in a bloody crackdown.
Ethiopia still seeks to end a conflict that broke out in November 2020 following months of mounting rancour between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government and the former ruling party of the northernmost Tigray region, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
The fighting has displaced millions, and, according to UN estimates, driven hundreds of thousands to the brink of starvation.

Former Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad admitted to hospital

Updated 22 min 38 sec ago

Former Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad admitted to hospital

  • Mahathir Mohamad was admitted to the cardiac care unit at the National Heart Institute but gave no details

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad has been admitted to hospital, a spokesperson for him said on Saturday.
The spokesperson said Mahathir was admitted to the cardiac care unit at the National Heart Institute but gave no details.


Tokyo daily COVID-19 cases hit record for fourth straight day

Updated 28 min 56 sec ago

Tokyo daily COVID-19 cases hit record for fourth straight day

  • Case count jumps nearly 2.5 times from 4,561 lodged a week before

TOKYO: Tokyo recorded its highest number of daily COVID-19 infections for the fourth consecutive day on Saturday as the omicron variant continued to spread rapidly.
The capital city had 11,227 new coronavirus cases, the local government said, a day after reinstatement of curbs on mobility and business activity that are set to run until Feb. 13.
The case count jumped nearly 2.5 times from 4,561 lodged a week before and was higher than 9,699 confirmed cases on Friday.
Three people died of COVID-19 and 12 patients were in serious condition on Saturday, the Tokyo government also said.
The occupancy rate of hospital beds for coronavirus patients in Tokyo rose to 34.3 percent. A rise to 50 percent would warrant a state of emergency with more severe restrictions, local officials have said.
Osaka prefecture announced it had 7,375 infections on Saturday, hitting a record for a second straight day.


Fire in residential building kills 6, injures 15 in Mumbai

Updated 22 January 2022

Fire in residential building kills 6, injures 15 in Mumbai

  • The fire was caused by a short-circuit in an air conditioner in one of the apartments
  • Nearly two dozen fire engines extinguished the blaze and controlled the smoke after a two-hour effort

NEW DELHI: A major fire in a 19-story residential building killed at least six people and injured 15 others on Saturday in Mumbai, India’s financial and entertainment capital, officials said.
The fire was caused by a short-circuit in an air conditioner in one of the apartments, Mumbai Mayor Kishori Pednekar said.
Residents said the fire started on the 15th floor and a big column of black smoke soon enveloped the building. More than 90 people escaped the building on their own or helped by neighbors, they said.
Ganesh Purnaik, a spokesman for the city government, said the fire left six people dead and 15 hospitalized with injuries.
Four of the injured were in critical condition, said police officer Saurabh Tripathi.
Nearly two dozen fire engines extinguished the blaze and controlled the smoke after a two-hour effort, media reports said. Firefighters rushed the injured to two nearby hospitals.
Pednekar said some of the injured needed oxygen support because they had inhaled smoke.
Fires are common in India, where building laws and safety norms are often flouted by builders and residents.
In August, a fire killed eight coronavirus patients at a hospital in Ahmedabad, a major city in Gujarat state. In December 2018, a late-night fire in a Mumbai restaurant killed 15 people.


1 NYPD officer killed, 1 severely injured in Harlem shooting

Updated 22 January 2022

1 NYPD officer killed, 1 severely injured in Harlem shooting

  • Call for federal authorities to do more to round up stolen guns like the one used in Friday’s shooting

NEW YORK: A New York City police officer was killed and another critically wounded Friday night while answering a call about an argument between a woman and her adult son, officials said, making four officers shot in the city in as many days.
Just three weeks into their jobs, Mayor Eric Adams — a former police captain himself — and Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell stood before the media at a Harlem hospital, denouncing the spate of violence against the New York Police Department.
“Countless officers lined this hallway after carrying him in and grieve for their brother while praying with everything they have for the other” officer, Sewell said. “I am struggling to find the words to express the tragedy we are enduring. We’re mourning, and we’re angry.”
Adams said, “This was just not an attack on these brave officers. This was an attack on the city of New York.”
Adams called for federal authorities to do more to round up stolen guns like the one used in Friday’s shooting inside a Harlem apartment.
“There are no gun manufacturers in New York City,” he said. “We don’t make guns here. How are we removing thousands of guns off the street and they still find their way into New York City, in the hands of people who are killers?”
Authorities said the officers, along with a third officer, went to the apartment on 135th Street after a call came in from a woman needing help with her son, identified by police as Lashawn J. McNeil, 47.
Authorities said the officers spoke with the woman and another son, but there was no mention of a weapon. Then two of them walked from the front of the apartment down a narrow, 30-foot (9-meter) hallway.
NYPD Chief of Detectives James Essig said McNeil swung open a bedroom door and opened fire at the officers, striking them.
The officer who was killed was identified as 22-year-old Jason Rivera, who joined the force in November 2020, and the wounded officer as Wilbert Mora, 27, who’s been with the NYPD for four years.
As McNeil tried to flee, a third officer who’d stayed with McNeil’s mother in the front of the apartment shot at McNeil and wounded him in the head and arm, Essig said.
McNeil is alive and hospitalized in critical condition, NYPD spokesperson Lt. John Grimpel said, correcting earlier reports that he had been killed. Sewell and Adams did not take questions at the hospital press conference.
McNeil’s last known address is in Allentown, Pennsylvania, about 90 miles (145 kilometers) west of New York City.
McNeil was on probation for a 2003 drug conviction in New York City. He also had several out of state arrests. In 1998, he was arrested in South Carolina for unlawfully carrying a pistol, but records show the matter was later dismissed. In 2002, he was arrested in Pennsylvania for assaulting a police officer, Essig said.
Police said the gun used in Friday night’s shooting, a .45-caliber Glock with a high-capacity magazine capable of holding up to 40 extra rounds, had been stolen in Baltimore in 2017.
Friday night’s shooting happened in a street-level apartment in a six-story apartment building on a block between two iconic Harlem avenues: Malcolm X Boulevard and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard.
It came three nights after an officer was wounded in the leg in the Bronx during a struggle with a teenager who also shot himself. On Thursday, a narcotics detective was shot in the leg on Staten Island.
Under Adams, the NYPD has reinstated a plainclothes anti-crime unit aimed at getting guns off the streets. The unit had been disbanded in 2020 over concerns it accounted for a disproportionate number of shootings and complaints.
The NYPD has also partnered with prosecutors, city and federal agencies in recent months on a task force that meets daily and works to track gun violence, accelerate gun tracing and build cases against shooters and gun traffickers.