Global Polio Eradication Initiative Launches 2010-2012 Strategic Plan in Geneva

“The next three years, and especially the next 12 months, are critical to the polio eradication initiative and, by extension, the entire international public health agenda” says WHO Director-General Margaret Chan ….

In a recent press release it was reported that on Friday, June 18 a broad range of stakeholders would formally launch the new Strategic Plan 2010-2012 for eradicating wild poliovirus.

Polio eradication sits at a critical juncture. Across Africa, 10 of the 15 previously polio-free countries re-infected in 2009 have successfully stopped their outbreaks. Key endemic countries are witnessing historic gains against the disease. Nowhere is progress more evident than Nigeria, where case numbers have plummeted by more than 99% – from 312 cases at this time last year, to three in 2010. In India, for the first time ever, the remaining endemic states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have not reported any wild poliovirus type 1 cases concurrently for more than six months.

The meeting in Geneva was held to build on the gains already made in 2010 and to galvanize new action on polio eradication. Last month, the World Health Assembly welcomed the new plan while expressing deep concern about the US $1.3 billion funding shortfall (out of a budget of US $2.6 billion) over the next three years. This financing shortfall is a serious risk to the eradication of polio – activities are already being cut back or postponed due to a lack of funds.

The Ministers of Health of Nigeria, Afghanistan, Angola and Senegal, among a number of other senior health ministry officials, existing and potential funders, vaccine manufacturers and key partner organizations attended the meeting co-hosted by WHO Director-General Margaret Chan and the new UNICEF Executive Director Tony Lake (photographed below with a Kick Polio Out of Africa football that resides with WHO in Geneva) – to discuss the implementation, monitoring, economics and financing of the new plan.

Photo credit: WHO/Christopher Black.

Dr Margaret Chan called on the international funding community to stand tall for polio eradication. “The next three years, and especially the next 12 months, are critical to the polio eradication initiative and, by extension, the entire international public health agenda.”

The new plan builds on major lessons learnt to date, including findings from  a major independent evaluation examining the remaining barriers to eradication.  It introduces district- and area-specific strategies to target the ever-shrinking remaining reservoirs of poliovirus, exploits the game-changing bivalent oral polio vaccine to increase the impact of immunizations, and tackles health system weaknesses. The success of this plan now hinges on implementation of activities at field level and the provision of adequate financing.

Partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative are examining every possible option to seek fresh funding while managing existing cash flow to limit any threat to the immunization plan. The risk of not stopping polio in endemic countries was made clear when a large type-1 outbreak originally from India spread to Tajikistan early in 2010 where, to date, it has paralysed 239 children. Tajikistan had been polio-free since 1997. This highlights the urgency of capitalizing on recent gains made in the polio-endemic countries.

“Polio eradication remains an urgent priority for our foundation,” said Tachi Yamada, president of global health at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  “We call on donor governments to also prioritize polio as we seek to eliminate these last, most difficult cases.”

“The complete eradication of polio is an absolute goal and it requires absolute commitment from us all,” said UNICEF Executive Director Tony Lake.

“Rotary believes the new Strategic Plan provides the blueprint to achieving the goal of polio eradication,” said Carl-Wilhelm Stenhammar, 2010-11 Chair, The Rotary Foundation. When Rotary initially launched the effort in 1985, 1000 children were being paralyzed daily by polio across 125 countries each year. Rotary has since contributed more than US $900 million in that time, and the incidence of polio has fallen by more than 99%.

We hope this will send a strong message to the G8 summit in Ontario June 25-26 and G20 summit in Toronto June 26 – 27.

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