Eradicating Polio

At the World Health Assembly in 2012, 194 member states declared that the eradication of polio is a “programmatic emergency for global public health.” At the 2013 Global Vaccine Summit in Abu Dhabi, donors pledged $4 billion to fund GPEI’s new six-year plan to eradicate polio and eliminate the disease. Experts estimate that in the two decades following eradication, countries will receive between US$40 billion and US$50 billion in net benefits, approximately 85 percent of which will go to low-income countries. This figure does not include additional health improvements resulting from other GPEI efforts, such as vitamin A supplementation or the much larger net benefits of eradication for countries that eliminated polio before the GPEI started.

India—long considered the most difficult place to end polio due to its population density, high migration rates, poor sanitation, high birth rates, and low rates of routine immunization—is a prime example of how a fully funded program with dedicated leaders and workers can achieve success.

Polio vaccination teams pick up supplies at a railway station in the state of Bihar in northern India.

A number of factors contributed to India’s success: highly targeted, data-driven planning; well-trained and motivated staff; rigorous monitoring; effective communications; mobilization of trusted community and religious leaders; political will at all levels; and adequate funding. India has served as a model for other regions and has shared technical assistance and best practices with countries including Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Global collaboration and innovation have produced new tools and approaches that can help improve logistical planning for polio eradication. In addition, refinements to the polio vaccine have improved the immune response to the remaining types of the disease. (Wild type 2 poliovirus was eliminated in 1999, and wild type 3 has not been reported anywhere since 2012.) New diagnostic, monitoring, and modeling tools are allowing faster and more accurate tracking of polio cases and transmission patterns.

To slow the spread of polio in their countries, Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan have implemented national emergency plans overseen by their heads of state. These programs increase accountability and improve the quality of polio vaccination campaigns from the national to the local level. WHO is providing unprecedented levels of technical assistance to these countries, and improved vaccination campaigns are helping reach more children.

The GPEI six-year plan serves as the basis for all activities required to stop polio, including the use of data and analysis to set country-level vaccination targets, as well as the use of new tools and approaches to implement programs. According to a 2015 midterm review, the GPEI program is largely on track but will need an additional US$1.5 billion to fund the program through 2019.

Eradicating polio is an important milestone for the Decade of Vaccines, a shared commitment by nearly 200 countries to extend the benefits of vaccines to every person by 2020. It also would establish a model we could use to deliver vaccines for other preventable diseases and protect children in the poorest, least accessible areas.

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