Polio is a highly infectious disease that kills and cripples children. To address this public health crisis, in 1988 the World Health Assembly launched the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI). The GPEI is a public private partnership led by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, Rotary International, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It represents a coordinated, global effort with Ministries of Health to eradicate polio everywhere.
Great progress has been made during the last two decades. The number of polio cases has fallen from an estimated 350,000 in 1988 to slightly more than 1,600 in 2009 – a more than 99% decline in reported cases. The total number of polio endemic countries (countries that have never interrupted the transmission of wild poliovirus) have been reduced from 125 to four – Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan. Stopping the transmission of polio in countries that have been re-infected with polio has also been successful. Twelve of the twenty polio re-infected countries in 2009 and 2010 have not reported a case of polio in 4 months.
Gains Are Real, but Fragile
With the launching of the GPEI Strategic Plan 2010-12 new tools and district-specific plans were deployed by Ministries of Health to reduce the number of polio cases, but challenges still exist – especially in the remaining polio endemic countries, and in countries battling persistent outbreaks such as Angola and DR Congo. The recent importation of polio into Tajikistan illustrated that high levels of vaccination must be maintained. Rapid responses to polio outbreaks are also needed to prevent the spread of polio within countries or across borders. Ministries of Health are placing greater emphasis on improving the quality of surveillance, the quality of vaccination campaigns, a better understanding of community needs and the strengthening of routine immunizations programs to maintain polio-free areas. Polio eradication is within our grasp but requires a sustained and intense effort and additional funding. Its accomplishment will be a historic achievement for public health.
In his June 4, 2009 Cairo speech President Obama proclaimed, “And today I am announcing a new global effort with the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to eradicate polio”. This high level support from the President further strengthened the U.S. commitment to joint polio eradication efforts with the OIC from across USG agencies.
A joint OIC/USG work plan for polio eradication was elaborated in April 2010 to strengthen diplomatic advocacy, technical support and resource mobilization.
Diplomatic initiatives by both OIC and USG have engaged directly with political and community leaders in polio affected states. Technical support programs are being expanded to accommodate the deployment of additional public health professionals to the remaining polio endemic areas and innovative financing mechanisms are under consideration to mobilize additional resources.
Through CDC and USAID the USG has contributed over $1.8 billion to the GPEI since 1988 in support of surveillance and laboratory networks, campaign planning, social mobilization and other activities, representing nearly 30% of global contributions. The U.S. commitment remains constant at approximately $133m in FY10. The U.S. calls on all donors to contribute generously to fill the current funding gap of $810 million and help to fully implement the new GPEI Strategic Plan 2010-12 and achieve the historic goal of global polio eradication.