More than 400 eminent scientists and public health experts from around the world have come together to endorse a new initiative to eradicate polio by 2018. The Scientific Declaration on Polio Eradication, published on 11 April, stated that an end to polio is scientifically feasible and achievable.
Governments, international organisations and civil society have been urged to do their part by seizing this historic opportunity to end polio and protect the world’s most vulnerable children and future generations from this debilitating but preventable disease. The declaration called for full funding and implementation of the Polio Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan 2013-2018, developed by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI).
Polio is a disease that causes irreversible paralysis and death. The number of polio cases is currently at an all-time low, with 16 new cases reported so far in 2013 as of 9 April, compared to 350 000 cases in 1988. At the moment, polio remains prevalent in a few countries including Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, with Nigeria known to have the highest number of people living with the disease.
The new polio eradication strategy was borne out the need to create a society that is free of children who have to deal with paralysis, or die of the disease, and the realisation that a total eradication of polio is possible. India, for example, was initially regarded as the most difficult place to eliminate polio, but the country has not had a single case recorded over the last two years.
GPEI said that the unprecedented progress, scientific advances and new tools proves that by 2018, polio can become history, citing the drop of new cases of wild poliovirus. However, it has been estimated that complete elimination of the disease over the next five years could cost up to $5.5 billion.
GPEI’s plan addresses challenges that have previously posed obstacles to polio eradication in the past, such as improving immunisation campaign quality to reach missed children and eliminating rare polio cases originated by the oral polio vaccine. The plan is a long-term, comprehensive strategy, which comes with a timetable to phase out use of oral polio vaccines and introduce inactivated polio vaccines and a call to vaccine manufacturers to provide an affordable supply.
“Securing a lasting polio-free world goes hand in hand with strengthening routine immunisation. We need all countries to prioritise investments in routine immunisation,” said Dr Zulfiqar Bhutta, founding director of the Center of Excellence in Women and Child Health at Aga Khan University, in a press statement. Dr Bhutta, one of the declaration’s leaders, is a member of the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunisation, a technical advisory body to the GPEI.
“Eradicating polio is no longer a question of technical or scientific feasibility but rather, getting the most effective vaccines to children at risk requires stronger political and societal commitment,” David Heymann, head and senior fellow at the Chatham House Centre on Global Health Security and a signatory of the declaration, pointed out in the same statement. He further added that “eliminating the last 1% of polio cases is an immense challenge, as is the eradication endgame after that. But by working together we can make history and leave the legacy of a polio-free world for future generations.”