Today is World Polio Day – a day to celebrate the successes of polio eradication efforts and recognise the great achievements of all those involved in eliminating cases of this deadly disease. Since 1988, thanks to the efforts of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), polio cases have reduced by 99%, and today polio only remains endemic in three countries – Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. With only 19 cases of wild polio virus this year, the success of this great effort should not be taken lightly. The world is within reaching distance of eradicating only the second disease ever from the planet.
However, we still have a long way to go and we should not be complacent about the challenges that remain ahead of us. We know the areas that remain endemic are the most challenging areas, often affected by conflict and insecurity. Access limitations, migration, and poor data quality remain large barriers to reaching every last child with the polio vaccine. Furthermore, as the world draws closer to polio eradication, international funding for polio will also change. Support from the GPEI to countries will decrease, and once polio has been eradicated, the GPEI will wind down and cease to exist. As countries move away from polio funding, vital immunisation structures that are supported by this money could be weakened. In reality this could mean fewer health workers to immunise children against all diseases as well as weaker surveillance systems to track disease outbreaks. Furthermore, if a country’s existing immunisation system is weak, it may be difficult for them to absorb essential polio functions. This could lead to fewer people being reached with the polio vaccine, potentially causing outbreaks.
A further critical issue to address is that of vaccine-derived polio. While wild polio cases are reducing, vaccine derived polio, a form mutated from the oral vaccine, has been circulating in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Papua New Guinea, Niger, Nigeria, and Somalia in 2018.
The challenges that remain are not easy. However, whilst we have not achieved eradication yet, we do know how to get there. The solution is the same for all polio outbreaks - vaccinate every child to stop polio transmission.
At RESULTS, we believe increased funding, coordination and collaboration are key to ensuring no child is missed. For polio to be eradicated:
- Donors must continue to support and fund polio eradication. The UK has made great contributions to the fight against polio, and this, along with other donor contributions, must continue.
- Conversations around transition must continue to ensure that GPEI resources can successfully be reduced without damaging immunisation infrastructure. In November, the global health community will hold crucial meetings to discuss next steps on transition and agree who will be responsible for polio efforts when GPEI winds down.
- Increased collaboration between polio programmes and routine immunisation systems is essential. Strengthening essential immunisation systems are vital to sustaining the gains made in the eradication effort. This includes the need for organisations like GPEI and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to continue working together.
- National governments must increase immunisation resources, and every country must remain vigilant against polio. No one can afford to be complacent when it comes to ensuring every child is vaccinated.
We have come a long way in the fight against polio, this is because of great expertise, sustained public and political action, and global cooperation. A great network of health workers, community leaders and surveillance systems have practically made things possible on the ground. This World Polio Day let’s applaud how far we’ve come and redouble our efforts to ensure we get rid of polio once and for all.
To find out more about polio, please visit: http://polioeradication.org/