UCSF researcher receives distinguished service medal for his work in eradicating polio in southeast asia

December 11, 2000

Jon Andrus, MD, UCSF associate adjunct professor of epidemiology and biostatistics in the Institute for Global Health, has been awarded the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) Distinguished Service Medal. He is being recognized for his leadership and technical contributions from 1993 to the present in eradicating polio in Southeast Asia.

Andrus was responsible for coordinating polio eradication in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. In 1993, this region accounted for approximately 60-70 percent of reported polio cases globally because of the high prevalence of crowded conditions, open sewers, high birth rates, and low immunization coverage. Andrus completed the work in Southeast Asia as a commissioned officer in the United States Public Health Service and as chief of vaccines and other biologicals on assignment from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to the World Health Organization's Southeast Asia regional office.

"He faced extraordinary obstacles, including a lack of political commitment and resources in many countries. With vision and perseverance, he was able to obtain commitment from all ten countries in the region to implement national immunization days (NIDS)," said Stephen Cochi, MD, director of the Centers for Disease control division of vaccine-preventable disease eradication. "Dr. Andrus' work requires a rare balance of scientific, administrative, and diplomatic skills. His ability to develop consensus has been instrumental to his successful leadership of the effort in the Southeast Asia region and to the remarkable progress toward worldwide polio eradication," he added.

Under Andrus' direction, agencies such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Rotary International granted financial assistance directly to the World Health Organization (WHO) regional office for management of supervision of inter-country immunization programs. Andrus was also instrumental in securing a grant from the Danish government for $11.8 million to help in the eradication effort.

"The key is to recognize that no one government or organization can do this alone. Everyone works together to recognize each participating organization and what it can contribute," said Andrus, who oversaw the initiation of national immunization days in all ten countries, beginning in 1995. By 2000 more than 250 million children under five had been given two drops of the polio vaccine delivered orally, including more than 130 million children in India alone.

Reported polio incidence has declined sharply in Southeast Asia from 9,754 cases in 1992 to 3,353 cases in 1999 - a decrease of 65 percent, according to Cochi. The number of laboratory-confirmed cases decreased by 40 percent from 1998 (1,942 cases) to 1999 (1,160 cases). A large block of polio-free countries has emerged in Southeast Asia, explained Cochi. The last indigenous cases occurred in Sri Lanka in 1993, Indonesia in 1996, Myanmar in 1996, and Thailand in 1997. Bhutan and Maldives remain polio free. By the first quarter of 2000, data suggested that large geographic areas and many states of Southern India were emerging as polio free, he added.

Andrus is originally from King City, California. He graduated from Stanford University and obtained his medical degree at University of California, Davis, in 1979. After completing his family practice residency at UCSF's Santa Rosa Family Practice Program in 1982, he practiced family medicine for two years in Lassen County in the National Health Service Corps. In 1985, Andrus joined the Peace Corps and worked for two years as a volunteer district health officer in Mchinji, Malawi, Africa. He joined the CDC in 1987 as an epidemic intelligence service officer. In 1990 he became an epidemiologist for the Expanded Program on Immunization of the Pan American Health Organization, where he coordinated polio surveillance. In his most recent position as chief of vaccines and other biologicals in Southeast Asia, he supervised a staff of 19 and oversaw a budget of $15 million annually.

Andrus' work in Southeast Asia was part of a seven year tour of duty. During tenures overseas, he has suffered from malaria (three bouts) and hepatitis E (a water-born virus similar to hepatitis A). A back injury and heart disease (that ultimately required the placement of a stent) were impetus for brief returns to the United States. His two year assignment from CDC to UCSF began in July 2000, where he continues to develop vaccination and immunization programs in the least developed countries and advises the World Health Organization on issues related to polio eradication.

"Jon has made an extraordinary contribution to the great task of eradicating polio, especially in Latin America and India. I am delighted that his work and dedication have been recognized by this high honor, and that Jon is now part of our team," said Richard Feachem, PhD, director of the UCSF Institute for Global Health.

Polio, once a devastating and feared disease in the United States, has been eradicated since 1991 from the Western Hemisphere. It still occurs relatively frequently in parts of Southern Asia and sub-Sahara Africa. Polio is an acute viral disease that occurs sporadically and in epidemics. Sufferers have a fever, sore throat, headache, vomiting, and often stiffness in the neck and back. In severe cases, the virus enters the central nervous system causing paralysis.

The Distinguished Service Medal is the highest award given to a Public Health Service commissioned officer. Such achievement may range from the management of a major health program to an initiative resulting in a major impact on the health of a nation.
To arrange an interview with Jon Andrus, contact Maureen McInaney at 415-476-2557.

University of California - San Francisco

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