Amid news of Ebola, measles, and other vaccine-preventable diseases, discussions of polio can sometimes get lost in the mix — it's very nearly eradicated, close to being an illness of the past.
But the threat of polio was all too real not that long ago.
When the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) first launched in 1988, polio infected more than 350,000 children every year, across 125 countries. But thanks to an unprecedented global partnership that worked together to coordinate immunization programs worldwide, polio cases were down to 33 in 2018.
While that itself is a great accomplishment in the fight toward eradicating polio once and for all, it has actually resulted in the advancement of a whole lot more. In fact, it’s led us closer than ever to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and more specifically Global Goal 3: good health and well-being for all.
GPEI brought together governments, communities, and partners under the common goal of eradicating this infectious disease and as such managed to lay the groundwork for future similar partnerships. The reason this is so key is that achieving the SDGs will only be possible if the world works together.
The polio program has served as a blueprint for investments in the overall global health interventions working to achieve the SDG 3 on global health.
Because of the combined efforts of government donors, philanthropists, private sector players, and more, an estimated 18 million people are walking today who would have been paralyzed by polio otherwise. The GPEI also estimates that a total of 1.5 million deaths have been prevented.
Those are huge numbers in the context of global health.
But these united efforts have done much more than just protect against one singular disease. The way in which the GPEI has tacked polio has empowered the world to better respond to other disease outbreaks, as seen with Zika or Ebola.
And polio workers have done (and continue to do) so much more than provide vaccines — they provide health education to women on a range of topics. Because of this, the GPEI’s efforts also moves the dial toward on the achievement of Global Goal 5: gender equality.
On Nov. 19, Abu Dhabi will host the Reaching the Last Mile Forum, where a Polio Pledging Moment will provide world leaders with a chance to commit new funds to the GPEI, which is looking to secure an additional US$3.27 billion to fund its 2019-2023 Polio Endgame Strategy and end this disease for good.