Actions by global citizens put polio on the agenda of the 2015 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), and led to 6 world leaders committing to finish the job of eradicating the disease forever by 2019 by renewing their support to polio eradication efforts.

The 2015 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, held in Malta, marked four years since the landmark commitment to polio eradication was made by world leaders at CHOGM 2011, highlighting the progress seen and calling on leaders to recommit the political and financial will necessary to bring us closer to the finish line. Indeed, CHOGM 2011 played a significant role in the story of polio within Australia’s aid program.

More than 250,000 actions were taken towards polio eradication by global citizens in 2015 aimed at making polio an agenda item. In the lead up to Global Citizen Festival, 66,268 emails were sent to leaders of Commonwealth countries asking them to eradicate polio for good, and more than 100,000 emails, tweets and phone calls were made asking PM Muscat of Malta (Current Chair-in-Office of the Commonwealth), to put polio on the agenda.

This campaign ran at a critical time, with the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) needing to raise an additional $1.5 billion to fill a shortfall identified after the reviewed progress against their endgame strategy to eradicate polio by 2019.

PM Muscat responded to our campaign, asking for a phone call after being “bullied to do the right thing” by global citizens, during which we invited him to attend the 2015 Global Citizen Festival. Backstage at the Festival he met with polio survivor and advocate Ramesh Ferris, who handed him a petition of 38,077 signatures from global citizens urging him to make the funding gap facing polio eradication efforts a key priority at the forthcoming CHOGM. From the stage of the Festival, Prime Minister Muscat then committed  to "seek a renewal in global commitment to end polio once and for all." For World Polio Day Prime Minister Muscat published 'Achieving a polio-free world' in The Guardian reiterating his commitment and explaining how, with additional funding from the global community, polio eradication could be one of the "greatest public health success stories in recent times." He then wrote to key Commonwealth governments asking them to come to CHOGM ready to recommit to the global effort to eradicate polio once and for all. Global Citizen supported this by getting our supporters to follow up in their own countries, asking their leaders to respond to PM Muscat’s call to action.

Muscat’s leadership did not disappoint. Despite resistance from some quarters, he succeeded in securing a new commitment from Commonwealth leaders to accelerate action and renew financial support to eradicate polio once and for all. In delivering on his commitment at the festival, he told Michael Sheldrick, Director of Global Policy and Advocacy: “We have kept to our word. I believe with the support of fellow leaders we will manage to eradicate polio.”

Such a commitment, affirmed in a condensed Leaders’ Statement and announced at a press conference held on the margins of CHOGM featuring Muscat and several other leaders including Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, could not have come at a more critical time for the funding of the global eradication program. The renewed commitment at CHOGM 2015 represents a key step towards securing additional funding, enabling the program to react to new challenges with equal speed and ensuring the polio infrastructure benefits other health programs in the long-term.

CHOGM 2015 also showcased full commitment for the eradication program at the highest levels of political leadership in Pakistan and Nigeria, the latter of which was only recently removed from the WHO’s list of polio-endemic countries. The ongoing support of both governments will be critical to success, and the Commonwealth played a useful and constructive role in nurturing this.

At the press conference announcing the commitment to renew financial support, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said, "We will continue to offer our leadership on this issue. I believe with the support of fellow leaders we will manage to eradicate polio.” Other leaders said:

  • “Polio struck down many of my generation, and now we are on the verge of striking down polio. My thanks to the Commonwealth leaders for their support, and together, let us make the final push and wipe out polio from this earth." - UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

  • "We are very committed to this campaign and this issue. It is of vital importance to the people of every country. It's a great tribute to the generosity, the philanthropy, in the truest sense of the world, of the Commonwealth that polio eradication is deemed such a big priority in Malta.” - Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia.

  • “Pakistan has made polio eradication a national cause. Our priority is to reach out to each and every child so no child remains unvaccinated. I am pleased to note that we have been able to significantly reduce the number of polio cases in Pakistan and we will not rest until polio is eradicated from our country.” - Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan.

  • "Canada has changed its government, but our commitment remains. We were proud to commit $250 million in Abu Dhabi at the 2013 Global Vaccine Summit. We are proud to be a donor of global polio eradication efforts and we will continue to do so until polio is gone." - Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Dion of Canada.

  • “I am proud of the role the United Kingdom has played , including our pledge of £300 million pounds to support the GPEI. I urge Commonwealth countries to demonstrate their continued resolve in this fight. Together, I believe their leadership and commitment will help the world achieve one of its greatest ever public health success stories." - Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Hugo Swire of the UK.

  • “Until polio is gone everywhere, it is a threat everywhere,” said Ravi Ravindran, President of Rotary International. “In 1988, we committed Rotary to ending polio. We’re sticking with it, until we have delivered a polio-free world to all future generations.”- Rotary International President, K. R. Ravindran.

  • "I think this is an exemplary example of what the Commonwealth can do when it collaborates and works together with focus to bring something about, and I hope this is just the beginning." - Commonwealth Secretary-General Designate Patricia Scotland (newly elected).

  • "No case of polio was reported since July 2014. This unprecedented feat informed the decision of the WHO to delist Nigeria from polio endemic countries in October this year. The country is poised and committed to remaining vigilant to ensure that we completely eradicate polio from Nigeria.” - Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama.

Traditional and social media coverage of CHOGM 2015 magnified the message that polio eradication was a priority on the Commonwealth agenda. Tweets by Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Canada’s Foreign Minister Stephane Dion demonstrated decisionmaker support and strongly reinforced the message. The extensive coverage by news outlets such as the Times of Malta, Malta Today, Vancouver Sun, UN News Centre, AAP, Radio Pakistan, Express Tribune, Dunya News, APP, News 24, Gulf News, Toulouse 7, Medium, Sky News Australia, Australian Outlook, Global Citizen and The Guardian helped deliver the message to a wider audience and highlighted the importance of funding for eradication efforts including the need for world leaders to address the $1.5 billion funding gap faced by GPEI.

Looking ahead, the commitment to renew financial support achieved at CHOGM, along with the above leaders’ statements, provides Global Citizen with a powerful tool to hold governments to account on filling their portion of the funding gap. Since CHOGM 2015, thousands of global citizens have taken action, and the Global Citizen advocacy team have met with members of parliament in Ottawa, Canberra and London, asking them how their respective governments will meet their political pledge to renew financial support. For example:

  • Australia: a motion was moved in the Senate calling on the Australian Government to follow through on the renewed commitment and pledge it made at CHOGM 2015.

  • UK: we partnered with RESULTS and MC Saatchi to launch the One Last Push Platform, and have recruited over 54 UK members of parliament to lend their support to ending polio.

  • Canada: we teamed up with the band Wintersleep to promote our polio campaigning at their concerts, inviting the local member of parliament to open a dialogue with members of their constituency during the show and bring back a collective message to Parliament.

  • Germany: more than 20,000 across the partnership people signed a petition that is being handed over to the German government in May.

As of May 2016, we are confident of securing at least two big financial commitments before the end of the year.

Once polio has been eradicated, it is estimated that there will be a global economic cost benefit of around $US 50 billion over the next 20 years. GPEI’s immunization efforts are already creating a lasting infrastructure for reaching all children with life-saving vaccines and health services against other global health priorities.

Updates since May 2016:

Global Citizen Festival 2016 on Sept 24. included some very positive developments on the road to eradicating polio.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat of Malta announced $30,000 to GPEI through to 2019 - a symbolic commitment set to affect 60,000 lives - and called on other leading commonwealth donors - United Kingdom, Canada and Australia - to step up.

“As the Chair of the Commonwealth, I urge other commonwealth countries to follow through on their promise to announce additional funding to finish the job on polio.” — Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

Although it looks like we are not set to receive the two major financial commitments we had anticipated before the end of the year, next year is set to be a promising one due to two major declarations of support on the Festival stage.

The first came from the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, in a video with megastar Usher.  In the film Trudeau acknowledged the ton of phone calls and tweets from Global Citizens that have “flooded” his office, before making this promising declaration of support: “Canada has long supported efforts to fight polio, which is now 99.9% eliminated. And we will be a strong partner through to the end.” 

Considering there are three more years left of Trudeau’s term, such positive inroads suggest that the $150 million Global Citizens have been asking Canada for, may well come. 


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How Malta is working with Global Citizen to end Polio