The world is close to eradicating polio but this infectious disease has a tendency — like the whack-a-mole game — to pop up just when you think you’ve got it put down.
The polio eradication campaign has been quite successful, getting rid of endemic polio in all but three countries: Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. But due to major increases in polio lately in these three countries, and some spill-over exportation of the disease into neighboring countries, the World Health Organization today officially declared a polio emergency.
It’s certainly not an emergency in terms of the overall number of cases, or the first time this disease has re-emerged after it was thought suppressed. But this time — so close to eradication — it’s ‘explosive’ re-emergence has prompted a greater sense of urgency. Failure to eradicate polio now could lead again to hundreds of thousands of polio deaths globally.
“Polio eradication is at a tipping point between success and failure,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization. “We are in emergency mode to tip it towards success – working faster and better, focusing on the areas where children are most vulnerable.”
As the BBC reports, the international community is being asked to provide nearly a $1 billion in funds to launch an emergency action plan:
Bruce Aylward, head of the WHO’s polio eradication campaign, said: “Over the last 24 months on three continents – in Europe, in Africa and in Asia – we have seen horrific explosive outbreaks of the disease that affected adults, and in some cases 50% of them died… Aylward also cautioned that there was a $950m shortfall in funding and admitted they had been forced into “cutting corners” with vaccination campaigns being stopped in some countries.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been along with Rotary International a strong supporter, and major funder, of the polio campaign. The Seattle philanthropy urged the international community to see this campaign through to completion.
“We are all responsible for creating a polio-free world while we still can,” said Chris Elias, president of Global Development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Achieving this goal is a critical step in protecting all children from vaccine-preventable diseases.”
Other news reports on the emergency action plan: