“It comes back,” said Dr. John Sever, Vice Chair of Rotary International’s International PolioPlus Committee, succinctly illustrating the danger of leaving polio eradication unfinished. Dr. Sever and Dr. David Bowen, Deputy Director of Global Health Policy and Advocacy at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, described the impressive achievements of the polio eradication campaign to date and the challenges facing eradication at The Polio Vaccine: A Dose of Prevention.
Since the launch of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in 1988, polio vaccination has prevented more than five million cases of crippling paralysis. Rotary International has been involved with the effort from the beginning, organizing vaccination campaigns across the world, often led by local Rotary members. More recently, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has contributed resources and advocated for stronger political conviction toward completing the goal of eradication. The United Nations Foundation has also been an important partner, and Peg Willingham, executive director of the Global Vaccines Campaign, moderated the discussion last week.
Drs. Sever and Bowen also spoke about the challenges of overcoming polio in the last four endemic countries: Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan. In Nigeria, false rumors about the vaccine had prompted parents to refuse to let their children be vaccinated. Since religious leaders approved the vaccination, however, coverage has increased dramatically. Though the two states in India where polio has never been interrupted face reduced vaccine effectiveness and large numbers of migrant workers, massive campaigns have drastically reduced case numbers there; just one case has been reported so far this year. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the main barrier to vaccination is conflict, which often keeps health workers from reaching remote villages. This is also the case in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Chad, where polio has reestablished itself.
This event was co-hosted by the Global Health Council, Research!America and the United Nations Foundation and is part of a series, Securing a Healthier Future with Vaccines. Check the Global Health Council’s website for information about future events.