By Douglas Farah
Senior Non-Resident Fellow, Americas Program
In parts of the impoverished, dusty Choloma neighborhood on the outskirts of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, rag tag children stream down unpaved roads to a bare cinderblock community center where they receive a small bowl of soup and some bread, often the bulk of their daily nutrition.
July 24 marks a significant milestone in the global effort to eradicate polio: Nigeria, one of the countries where wild poliovirus has proven hardest to extinguish, has reported no cases of the disease for a year. While the success should be celebrated, it also should be viewed with a note of caution. The country’s polio program needs continued political attention and sufficient resources to achieve official polio-free certification, a determination made formally by the World Health Organization only after three full years with no cases.
While polio eradication efforts currently are showing hopeful successes, the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) warned in its May 2015 report that sufficient funding and attention should be guaranteed to guard against backsliding. The initiative has thought it was nearing the end before, only to be afflicted with disease outbreaks that set it back, sometimes for years. A clear directive to move forward aggressively is warranted to avoid undue complacency.
Despite concerns about costs, vaccine supply, and tight deadlines, country health leaders have reaffirmed support for highly ambitious polio vaccine plans considered necessary to achieve full global polio eradication. Delegates to the 68th World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva approved a resolution last month that urges member states to prepare for a worldwide transfer in 2016 from widely used trivalent oral polio vaccine (OPV) to a bivalent version that withdraws the type 2 component of the vaccine. The move would eliminate from immunization programs the strain of the vaccine most associated with vaccine-derived polio cases. It will be important to carefully watch the preparations for and implementation of these plans over the course of 2015 and into 2016.
In early January 2013, a dozen deans from America's premier public health schools wrote President Obama a letter protesting the CIA's use of a faked vaccination campaign in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Sixteen months later, on May 16, 2014, Lisa Monaco, the top White House terrorism expert, responded to the deans with a short letter indicating that since August 2013 the policy of the United States has been that the CIA will no longer use vaccination programs, workers, or genetic materials obtained through immunizations for intelligence purposes. In that same letter, she reaffirmed that the United States “strongly supports the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) and efforts to end the spread of the polio virus forever.
As the World Health Organization (WHO) ramps up concern about polio as a global public health emergency, India is taking nothing for granted. WHO officially certified the country as polio free in March this year, but the achievement was hard fought and health officials remain vigilant.
Over the past several months, Russian artists have found themselves subjected to heightened official scrutiny over allegations of religious blasphemy, often at the behest of vigilant clergy and Orthodox laypersons. The timing of this inquisition during a period of great geopolitical and socioeconomic uncertainty, paints the picture of a Kremlin leadership beset by ideological doubt, if not by existential uncertainty, over its break with the West over Ukraine.
After 25 years of remarkable achievements and sometimes harrowing setbacks, a successful conclusion to global polio eradication could finally be within reach. In late April, the Global Vaccine Summit in Abu Dhabi released the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), a promising new six-year strategy to win the polio “endgame.”
About 800 soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division will deploy to South Korea in October as part of a rotational force that will serve with tanks and Bradleys near the North Korea border. The soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment will be stationed at Camps Hovey and Stanley near the Demilitarized Zone, the Army announced Tuesday. The soldiers, part of 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, will replace troops from 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, who have been deployed to Korea since February. The 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry also belongs to 3rd BCT, 1st Cavalry at Fort Hood, Texas. The deploying soldiers are expected to serve a nine-month tour.
"My vision is for Army vehicles to have scalable autonomous capabilities," said Matt Donohue, the Army's science and technology ground maneuver technology portfolio director for the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology. "For Army tactical vehicles, this means scalable autonomy from leader-follower to fully autonomous capable, including the ability to be loaded and unloaded by autonomous material handling equipment," Donohue said in Army Technology Magazine.
The U.S. Army is considering equipping the Iraqi Army’s M1A1 tanks with upgrades to provide greater protection from land mines and roadside bombs and to add rotating, remotely operated machine guns to attack snipers.
Troops on the battlefield like to be “in defilade”—protected from enemy fire by physical obstacles. The Army’s new Small Arms Grenade Munition (SAGM) round is designed to remove the advantage offered by such cover: it explodes in midair after it has cleared whatever shield the enemy is hiding behind.
The company tested its Supporting Arms Liaison Team Alpha's readiness for an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan by tackling various "real-life" scenarios between Dec. 8 and 11, according to the release. The training included unloading from CH-53E Super Stallion heavy lift helicopters, dealing with Afghan village elders, and overcoming ambushes and sniper attacks. The Marines will be responsible for "security operations" in Afghanistan, according to the release. To prepare, they were "tested on their reaction to different insurgency situations such as counter improvised explosive device patrols and investigating the origin of enemy fire," the release states.
The 320 US soldiers and Marines at Al Asad air base in western Iraq have been coming under "regular" mortar fire from insurgent forces for several weeks, Defense Department spokesman Col. Steve Warren told reporters Monday. While Warren insisted that the attacks have been "wholly ineffective" and "no US personnel, no US equipment have been impacted in any way," this was the first time that the Pentagon acknowledged that the 2,100 US troops in Iraq have been in danger since deploying late last year.