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Inklings | Where’s the missing report on polio vaccine paralysis?

Notes and musings on how aid works, from The New Humanitarian’s policy editors.

The header image for the Inkling's newsletter entry of 10 July, 2024. On the top left you see Inklings written in a serif font with an ink bleed effect and underlined with a burgundy color line. On the bottom right we see a list of the main topic: Where’s the missing report on polio paralysis?

Hi, this is Will covering for Irwin for another edition of Inklings, where we explore all things aid and aid-adjacent unfolding in humanitarian hubs, on the front lines of emergency response, or in the dark corners of online aid punditry.

It’s also available as an email newsletter. Subscribe here.

Today: Publication of a damning polio vaccine report is mysteriously postponed, the UK’s new Labour government appears to be demoting foreign aid, and feeding the UN reform beast.

On the radar|

Polio ‘switch’ paralysis: A report slated to shed light on how 3,300 children were paralysed as a result of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) changing a vaccine recipe has been kicked into the long grass. The publication of the final version of an official investigation into what went wrong was due in the first week of June but has been repeatedly pushed back. A GPEI spokesperson told The New Humanitarian it was “still being finalised”, however another source said the final report was ready some time ago.

And now a draft version of the report, which revealed the damning findings, has disappeared from the website of the GPEI, a body made up of the biggest players in global health: the World Health Organization, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Gavi (the vaccine alliance). The draft was taken down once a public consultation period was over, the spokesperson said, and the final report should eventually take its place.

Luckily, The New Humanitarian previously downloaded a copy, which can be viewed here. It found a decision to remove the type 2 poliovirus – one of three polio strains – from oral vaccines given to children from 2016 was an “unqualified failure” that went on for years. The move, dubbed the “switch”, was supposed to help end outbreaks of the vaccine-derived type 2 virus. But the reverse happened, the strain spread unabated as thousands of unprotected children were infected. Some of them will never walk again – the precise numbers are unknown because the data has not been published.

Other key details are missing from the draft report. It took direct aim at GPEI’s leadership, which it said showed an “inability or unwillingness of programme leadership to recognise the seriousness of the evolving problem and take corrective action”, but did not explain what happened or why.  

  • Paralysed children: In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 727 children were paralysed as a result of the switch, 632 in Nigeria, 346 in Afghanistan, 231 in Yemen, 213 in Chad, 164 in Pakistan, 142 in Angola.
  • More stats: The final report is also expected to contain more information on the 43 countries where type 2 poliovirus has spread since the “switch”. 

Has Labour made UK foreign aid a part-time role?

In 1997, after a landslide UK Labour Party election victory, the government set about creating the Department for International Development (DFID), led by a Secretary of State, Clare Short. But now, the new government led by Keir Starmer has downgraded the position of the politician in charge of humanitarian issues even more than the previous Conservative government, which was no fan of aid, having closed DFID and slashed the budget.

A weekend of confusion followed the UK’s 4 July election, in which NGO workers were left unsure if there would even be anyone in the new government responsible for aid. But on 8 July, former Labour Party chair Anneliese Dodds was confirmed as the Minister of State responsible for International Development – a demotion from the titles attached to her Conservative predecessor, Andrew Mitchell (Minister for development and deputy foreign secretary). The move was a surprise to aid workers who spent 10 months building relationships with the team of Lisa Nandy, who held the role in opposition. The move “makes my life harder”, said one.

Worse, Dodds appears to be sharing the job with the role of Minister for Women and Equalities, at the Department for Education and the aid position – formerly one of the most prominent international roles in government – is not even mentioned on her official government page. This “suggests that they think it is a part time role on development or a part time role on women and equalities”, said one UK aid sector leader. “Either way this is not a strong signal that they truly want to renew the UK’s leadership on development, but rather keep the portfolio a subordinate of [Foreign Secretary David] Lammy’s.”

The person wondered: “why aren’t INGOs condemning this more strongly?”

Perhaps because after 13 years of Conservative government, as a third aid worker noted, “I think the general feeling is that it could be a lot lot worse”.

Data points|

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Supplied/OXFAM

A new analysis on the quality of climate finance claims its real value is much less than reported – by as much as $88 billion in 2022. Concerned about how much climate finance is dominated by loans and is of dubious relevance to climate purposes, Oxfam researchers devised a new measurement: Climate-Specific Net Assistance, displayed in the graph above in green. They say this measurement more accurately represents the “financial effort” of rich countries on climate finance, which is always among the most sensitive issues in COP talks. Read the full methodology here.

10 (and counting): The number of days the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has been without a leader. The former head of OCHA, Martin Griffiths, stepped down on 30 June but has not yet been replaced, even as humanitarian crises continue unabated. TNH enquiries to OCHA asking when the replacement will come have so far gone unanswered. 

Also: India’s scorching heatwave cost the lives of 25 polling officials during the country’s recent election, which saw record temperatures envelop the country, including 47 degrees Celsius in Dehli, The Hindu reported

Acronymage|

NCQG: New Collective Quantified Goal. The new climate finance target that governments must agree on this November at COP29 in Baku, Azerbaijan. It will supersede the current target of $100 billion a year from Global North to South, which many experts say is insufficient for meeting the challenges of climate change. 

DRFIP: Disaster Risk Financing and Insurance Program. One of the ways being considered to fill the coffers of the fund for loss and damage being discussed this week at the second meeting of the board in Songdo, South Korea. 

End quote|

“There's more comfort than there should be with the idea that we should have a UN reform process which recommends another UN reform process and so on and so on. Once this dynamic establishes itself – where you have this cycle of conferences and consultations – there is a small economy that builds around that, where there’s work to be found as NGOs and consultants in feeding the beast.” 

Fred Carver, managing director at Strategy for Humanity, gives some background to the forthcoming Summit for the Future, a big UN conference, which he says is the product of a previous big UN conference, like the one before that…

Have any tips, recommendations, or indecipherable acronyms to share with the Inklings newsletter? Get in touch: [email protected]

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