Polio might not be at the forefront of pressing global health news — but perhaps it should be.
This past October, the world officially eradicated two strains of poliovirus, leaving just one strain to contend with, marking an important milestone in its overall eradication.
But while progress against this disease has been remarkable, experts have warned that complacency could ruin the eradication efforts' overall success.
“If polio is not eradicated, there could be a resurgence of the disease, which could result in the appearance of up to 200,000 new cases worldwide each year within 10 years,” the Pan American Health Organization reported earlier this year.
That is why new funding commitments to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) for the 2019-2023 period are so important, and why the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is hosting the Reaching the Last Mile Forum in Abu Dhabi, where a Polio Pledging Moment will take place on Nov. 19.
The forum will bring together more than 250 high-level attendees ranging from government officials to members of the private sector, as well as philanthropists and academics. The focus will be on polio and the additional funding that is needed to successfully eradicate it.
The UAE has long been a polio eradication advocate and has been key in the delivery of millions of vaccines for children in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Sudan. More than 116 million doses of the polio vaccine were delivered in UAE-supported districts in Pakistan in 2018 alone, according to the GPEI.
In September, the GPEI presented its investment case for 2019-2023, which outlines the economic case for investing in polio eradication in the context of global health. Among the key takeaways is the fact that increased funding is needed. In order to put the GPEI’s Polio Endgame Strategy properly into effect, the program needs an additional $3.27 billion.
“Bold financial and political commitments from both governments and institutional donors are needed to rid the world of this disease,” it reads.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general and chair of the GPEI Polio Oversight Board, spoke at the event where the investment case was presented, addressing the important political and financial support that donors have contributed to the cause. He added that there has been good progress in reaching every last child with vaccines.
But the number of wild polio cases — while reported only in Afghanistan and Pakistan — are up from last year, from 33 in 2018 to 100 reported so far in 2019.
“This is a reminder that polio eradication is not a forgone conclusion … The last mile is the hardest. This will take a determined and unrelenting effort from all of us,” Dr. Tedros said.
Ahead of this month’s pledging conference, G20 health ministers held a meeting in Okayama, Japan, in October, where they highlighted the importance of a continued commitment to eliminating polio and expressed support for the GPEI.
The GPEI is a public-private partnership that is led by national governments, in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Donor governments play a vital role in ensuring GPEI’s success. A number of governments have already answered the call to action for increased funding.
UK International Development Secretary Alok Sharma announced a commitment of £400 million to the GPEI on Nov. 5.
But now the time has come for world leaders from countries worlwide to step up in the fight to ensure good health and well-being for all by committing funds towards polio eradication.