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Meklit Mersha- UNICEF Ethiopia
AdvocacyHealth

Let’s Talk Money — Here’s How Polio Eradication Will Save the World Billions

Polio has almost been eliminated, but with the virus still endemic in conflict-ridden and poverty-stricken regions of Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, the fight to end the crippling disease is not over yet. With the end of so much suffering seemingly within reach, the final push to finish the job is more important than ever.

Since 1988, investment in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) has meant that billions of at-risk children have been vaccinated and that millions of people who would have otherwise been paralyzed are now walking. As a result, the polio program has created savings of $27 billion.

Investment in polio eradication makes sense not only from a humanitarian perspective but also from a financial one.

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Over the next 20 years, the polio eradication plan is set to yield another $25 billion in net economic benefits, spread across 38 countries that receive finds from the GPEI.

Even so, this figure is an underestimation as it fails to account for the cumulative worldwide benefits of eliminating the disease. In fact, GPEI estimates that polio eradication will yield between $40 and $50 billion in savings for the global economy.

Even this figure likely belittles the true economic impact of eradicating polio, as it does not include the potential savings created by avoiding polio outbreaks in high- and middle-income countries, like the 2010 Tajikistan outbreak that spread to the Russian Federation.

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The cost and burden alone of such outbreaks is reason enough for the world to keep investing in polio eradication.

As long as polio transmission continues, so does the threat of outbreaks, which is why we must not lose momentum in the fight against the disease. This was made devastatingly clear in 2003, when five states in Nigeria became convinced that the polio vaccine was unsafe and stopped administering it.

Despite the fact that vaccine delivery in these states was only halted for a short time, the cost of responding to the subsequent outbreaks in these regions was in excess of $220 million. On top of this, the virus spread to 19 formerly polio-free countries, undermining the progress that had already been made, and costing the GPEI an additional $150 million.

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The indirect benefits of the polio program are financially important too. Polio-funded infrastructure is used to deliver other health services and strengthen health systems in low-income countries. For example, the polio program has seen over 1 billion doses of Vitamin A administered during polio immunization campaigns, saving at least 1.1 million people from dying of malnutrition and generating an additional $17 billion on top of the $27 billion already saved as a direct result of vaccination against the disease itself.

Moreover, polio eradication teams throughout the world are working to increase routine immunization coverage against other life-threatening diseases by 10% each year.

Achieving this goal in Nigeria alone would save up to 35,000 lives in just four years. These 35,000 lives translate to a $4 billion gain in economic productivity just in this one country — increased immunization coverage on a broader global scale would lead to even greater returns.

But how are these financial returns created? Let’s break it down.

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By vaccinating children against polio, strengthening routine immunization programs, and improving health services within the most neglected communities, GPEI-funded polio eradication programs are helping create better health outcomes for societies overall. This results in lower health costs for both families and health systems.

These saved financial resources can be used to fulfill other personal and societal needs —  children can afford to attend school more often and adults have access to better work and more economic opportunities, which ideally  leads to increased productivity for communities and national economies.

Vaccination against polio is not only poised to end the suffering caused by this terrible disease and improve people’s health, but also to “bring returns in perpetuity for communities, countries’ economies, and the entire world,” according to the GPEI.

In this way, investment in the fight against against polio has become a gateway to stronger communities and a powerful tool for lifting people out of poverty. Let’s make sure we win this fight: take action here.