Despite the dramatic drop in polio cases in the last year, the threat of continued transmission due to funding and immunisation gaps has driven the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI)to launch an Emergency Action Plan.
The plan aims to boost vaccination coverage in Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the three remaining polio endemic countries, to levels needed to stop polio transmission. In parallel, health ministers meeting at the World Health Assembly this week are considering a resolution to declare "the completion of polio eradication to be a programmatic emergency for global public health," in an acknowledgement of the urgency of the situation.
Polio eradication activities resulted in several landmark successes in 2010-2012. India, long-regarded as the nation facing the greatest challenges to eradication, was removed from the list of polio-endemic countries in February 2012. Outbreaks in previously polio-free countries were nearly all stopped.
Rotarians from Great Britain and Ireland have played a pivotal role in this success through fundraising and administering the vaccine to millions fo children iduring National Immunisation Days. These efforts were recently highlighted by the BBC.
Although the number of polio cases was lower in the first four months of this year than during the same period in any other year, cases continue to occur in Nigeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Chad. Outbreaks in recent years in China and West Africa due to importations from Pakistan and Nigeria, respectively, highlight the continued threat of resurgence. By some estimates, failure to eradicate polio could lead within a decade to as many as 200,000 paralysed children a year worldwide.
"We know polio can be eradicated, and our success in India proves it," said RI President Kalyan Banerjee, "It is now a question of political and societal will. Do we choose to deliver a polio-free world to future generations, or do we choose to allow 55 cases this year to turn into 200,000 children paralysed for life, every single year?"
RIBI President Ray Burman echoed the calls for support: "Rotarians across Great Britain and Ireland are committed to seeing the end of this crippling disease. We have helped protect billions of children from crippling pain and, in some cases, death. There is no greater reward than being able to give every child all over the world a life free from polio.
"We need the continued support of everyone, everywhere, to make this virus a thing of the past. No child should ever have to suffer."
President Burman also spoke about the issue on Vatican Radio. Listen to the full interview.
"Polio eradication is at a tipping point between success and failure," said Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organisation. "We are in emergency mode to tip it towards success - working faster and better, focusing on the areas where children are most vulnerable."
The Global Emergency Action Plan was developed in coordination with new country national emergency plans. The plan builds on India's successes and outlines a range of new strategies and initiatives to better support eradication efforts, including:
- Intensified focus on worst-performing areas of Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan to increase vaccination coverage by end of 2012 to levels needed to stop transmission;
- New approaches tailored to each country to tackle persistent challenges and improve polio vaccination campaign performance;
- Heightened accountability, coordination and oversight to ensure success at every level of government and within every partner agency and organisation.
- Surge of technical assistance and social mobilisation capacity.
To find out how you can work with Rotary and eradicate polio, please contact your local Rotary club.