Just over two months ago, a tragedy happened that probably didn’t make it onto your newsfeed. On Aug. 11, it was announced that two children in Nigeria have been paralysed by polio — a debilitating and deadly disease that only exists in three countries worldwide. Since then a third case has sprung up in the same north eastern state of Borno, prompting a mass vaccination drive by UNICEF and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative that aims to immunise 41 million children in Nigeria and the surrounding countries. The lives of these three little kids have been irreversibly altered, but with this drive, the hope is that they will be the last in Africa.
Polio is a disease that has ravaged the world since humans have existed. It wasn't until 1988, when the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was formed, that global decisive action was taken. Under the leadership of Rotary International, UNICEF, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organisation (WHO), and more recently the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, GPEI has done an extraordinary job of eradicating 99.9% of the disease. But the job is far from over and until it is fully eradicated, the risk of global outbreaks threatens all of us.
Last year, GPEI announced that in order to completely eradicate polio, they need a further $1.5 billion from donor countries. Although this seems a lot of money (it really is), the benefits of eradicating polio far outweigh the shared burden of this financial cost. Eradicating polio will be one of the greatest public health achievements in history and ensure that every child – now and for generations to come – will be able to live a polio-free life protected from paralysis or death. But for this to work, we need countries like Canada, Australia and the UK to step up.
It’s probably not fair of me to single out these three countries in particular as their leadership has played an integral part in helping to wipe out polio. The UK, for example, is one of the largest contributors to GPEI and have consistently reaffirmed their commitment to wiping out the disease for good. Their valued leadership is much needed.
Polio can, and will be stopped. But it will take the combined will of governments around the world to make it happen. As the outbreak in Nigeria has shown, we can’t allow complacency to stop the drive for total eradication. We need leaders to step up and finish this disease for good. Until they do, children everywhere are at risk.