World Polio Day Reminds Us the Fight is Not Over
By admin October 24, 2016

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Monday 24 October 2016 will be seen as a historic day in the fight against poliomyelitis. The day marks the last annual World Polio Day before the disease is officially eradicated. Yet the future is not as bright as one would envision, even if we have the cure to eliminate polio, we certainly have not finished the job.

In May 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the international spread of wild poliovirus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC); but, differently from the case of another PHEIC, the Ebola crisis in West Africa, which have been declared safe in March 2016, the spread of the poliovirus is still considered a PHEIC but doesn’t attract the same attention amongst world leaders.

In the meantime, the continuing polio PHEIC is endangering the success of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), which the world has invested $15 billion since it was launched in 1988, and which could solve an important threat against global health more generally. In fact, the GPEI effort to interrupt poliovirus transmission could miss its latest target date and, unfortunately, that would not be the first. By the original 2000 target date, the incidence of polio had been reduced by more than 99% percent, from an estimated 350,000 cases in 1988. Since then, however, a long, stubborn “tail” of infection has persisted, mainly in remote, poor regions and conflict zones. The effort to tackle these lingering cases is laborious, and it remains incomplete, despite PHEIC status.

It is important to say that several successes were recently achieved, such as the cases of India (which was certified polio-free in 2014) and Nigeria, which interrupted transmission of the disease the same year. However, there have also been many setbacks. In 2016, Nigeria suddenly had two new cases among children from an area that had just been liberated from the militant group Boko Haram, and the two polio-endemic countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan missed their 2015 eradication target and have had to extend it by another year, at a cost of $1.5 billion.

Analyzing the causes of both countries’ missed deadlines reveals that ending polio is not only a matter of medical treatment, but that this challenge presents many political and social underpinnings. Both countries failed in attaining their objectives due to internal conflicts that make children inaccessible to public-health professionals, opposition by some religious leaders, and public mistrust of national governments and international initiatives.

Finally, eradicating polio is a very expensive mission, since the phenomenon needs an action both at the highest political and at the lowest local community levels. Moreover, this disease is characterized by a high rate of re-emergence, as the Nigerian case demonstrates, and it is not surprising that the cost for the eradication of the disease has today surpassed by a half the initial estimates ($4.5 billion already spent against $2 billion).

Thus, after years of effort, it is now clear that only a strong, consistent, worldwide commitment to full eradication can end the polio emergency, and that substantive action in this direction must be pursued to make today the last World Polio Day.

For more information:
WHO scales up response to humanitarian crisis in Nigeria
2016 World Polio Day
Polio Global Eradication Initiative
Global eradication of polio: the case for “finishing the job”
Why haven’t we ended polio?

Thanks for sharing !

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