There have been many recent victories against polio: Africa has officially been declared wild polio-free, and Pakistan was on the brink of eradicating the disease just years ago. On the ground, some organizations like the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) are also working tirelessly to do their part in the fight against this debilitating and sometimes life-threatening disease.
But lately, while the world has its eyes on COVID-19 and its impact around the world, the war on polio has been forced to take a backseat — and the pandemic is even threatening to undo decades of progress towards its eradication.
In certain parts of the world, such as Pakistan or the Asia-Pacific region, routine vaccinations against polio were suspended at the height of the pandemic, leading more than 50 million children worldwide to miss their immunizations this year.
To prevent things from getting worse, the fight against polio must be brought back to the center of our priorities. Here's what polio survivors Safia Ibrahim, Colin Powell, and Ramesh Ferris have to say about this issue in 2020.
1. Polio knows no borders and affects millions of children around the world.
“I want people to know [that] the poliovirus still paralyzes children in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan — and because diseases don’t know borders, it’s still a threat to the world … I also can’t help but worry about the young girls that will be kept home from school because of a disability that could have been prevented; just like I was kept home from school in Somalia.”
2. A vaccine against polio exists — and we need to make sure everyone around the world has access to it.
“Although I’m happy to hear that polio is 99.9% eradicated and that Africa is wild polio-free, we need to remain vigilant and make sure every child is vaccinated so that they can have the opportunity to reach their full potential — no matter what country they reside in.”
“COVID-19 is a virus; polio is a virus. Both are airborne and spread from person to person in close proximity to one another. At the moment, COVID-19 has no permanent cure nor a vaccine — but polio has the latter. We need to ensure that every baby born around the world today is given the polio vaccine to eradicate this crippling disease from planet Earth fully.”
3. We can’t let COVID-19 compromise our united efforts in the fight against polio.
“Ending preventable diseases like polio and COVID-19 can be completed in unison; we have the blueprint to get the job done. As a global community, we can't afford to prioritize one disease over another — we must think and act holistically and cooperatively. It's only by continuing to work together that we will truly get to the ‘ending polio’ finish line. We can't allow COVID-19 to shadow our efforts, or we'll lose all the progress we've made.”
4. World leaders must do their part to help reprioritize the fight against polio.
“To date, we have a $470 million funding shortfall for the GPEI. COVID-19 has put health care workers in a position where they're playing catch up in reaching children and getting them vaccinated against polio. Committed funds to the GPEI help narrow the funding gap to ensure polio eradication activities can continue. As a polio survivor, Rotarian, and fellow Global Citizen, I’m calling on the global community to stay strong, committed, and focused on our efforts to end polio. Let us not lose sight [of the fact] that vaccines work, and [that] we’re so close to ending polio once and for all.”