Polio eradication efforts were in the spotlight on Wednesday as the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) — a public-private partnership led by the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), UNICEF, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance — drew up a new strategy to eliminate the disease by 2026.
The plan, called Polio Eradication Strategy 2022-2026: Delivering on a Promise, comes on the heels of a challenging year for polio eradication efforts.
While the disease has almost been eradicated globally — cases have fallen by 99.9% in the last three decades — it is still considered a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) along with Ebola and COVID-19. In countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, caseloads significantly increased over the past years, surging from 33 in 2018 to 149 in 2020, estimates from GPEI show.
According to the GPEI, this evolution is largely attributable to routine immunization disruptions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the spread of vaccine-derived polio strains.
The newly launched strategy aims to overcome these setbacks by equipping endemic countries with the resources they need to stop the spread of the virus and resume immunization as soon as possible.
Today 5 out of 6 @WHO regions are certified free of wild polio. But our job isn’t done yet. The global polio program just launched a new strategy which will work to #EndPolio for good. Learn more: https://t.co/vieXpi2x9epic.twitter.com/b62QcIH5Ti— EndPolioNow (@EndPolioNow) June 10, 2021
In particular, the GPEI identified five critical goals: strengthening partnerships with governments of endemic and high-risk countries, improving the management and operations of vaccination campaigns, integrating polio activities with other essential health programs, launching new global and regional rapid response teams on the ground, and applying a gender equality lens to the implementation of program activities.
Additionally, the initiative intends on broadening the use of a brand new tool: the novel oral polio vaccine type 2 (nOPV2). Used by a select number of countries since March, the vaccine is considered to be the most effective way to defeat the disease thanks to its ability to protect against circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2 (cVDPV2) outbreaks.
Welcoming the new strategy, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted that its success would depend on the commitment of all stakeholders, namely countries, donors, and partners.
“With this new strategy, the GPEI has clearly outlined how to overcome the final barriers to securing a polio-free world and improve the health and wellbeing of communities for generations to come,” he said. “But to succeed, we urgently need renewed political and financial commitments from governments and donors."
To achieve its goal, the GPEI will need $5.1 billion over the next five years, including a $3.5 billion incremental budget increase. The funds will be used to scale up support for immunization in high-risk countries and to implement major health system transformation, cross-border emergency response and surveillance.
In a call for financial support, the initiative’s founding partners have stressed the importance of global cooperation.
“After setbacks in recent years, and indications that some donors may reduce funding to the GPEI, there has never been a more important moment than right now in the history of polio eradication," Chris Elias, global development president at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said in a release. “With adequate support for the new strategy, we can secure a world where no child will be paralyzed by polio ever again, and we urge all donors to stay committed and consign this disease to history.”
The UK’s role in the fight for polio eradication has been critical. The polio programme, pioneered by Rotary, has saved millions from paralysis and is also tackling Covid-19.— Rotary GB & Ireland (@RotaryGBI) June 10, 2021
Good to get support from MPs for polio eradication, so we remain a leader in global health.#EndPoliopic.twitter.com/4gIloC0XIc
Disclosure: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a funding partner of Global Citizen.