The global community is painstakingly close to eradicating polio. Increases in vaccinations have spared the lives of more than 10 million people worldwide. Polio, a disease which used to claim the lives of up to 500,000 people a year, is almost gone. Its eradication would be a crucial milestone in transforming global health and demonstrating the effectiveness of collective action.
Global collective efforts have brought together UN agencies, governments, foundations, private businesses, and individuals to combat this disease. Worldwide, the number of recorded cases last year fell to an all-time-low of 223. There are only three countries where polio remains endemic: Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria.
These countries are susceptible to polio because of the fringe communities such as nomads, migrant workers, and displaced populations. People are much more likely to contract polio in areas of conflict and insecurity. In order to eradicate polio, vaccines must be delivered to the most marginalized of our society. This requires belief that every person has equal worth.
If the global community is not careful, and do not maintain its commitment to vaccinations and eradication, the World Health Organization has warned that the disease could break out again, reversing the last few decades of progress. This caveat has motivated UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to intensify efforts to eliminate the disease.
This ambition has lead the Global Polio Eradication Initiative to develop a six year strategy requiring countries where polio remains, to step up their efforts to vaccinate all children. Additionally, they are pressuring over 100 other countries to refine their polio immunization programs to ensure all children have access to the vaccines.
Kofi Annan has been urging the international community to provide the necessary funding to make vaccinations for marginalized and hard to reach children possible. The Global Vaccine Summit in Abu Dhabi this week implores partners and philanthropists to dig deep to support increased access to polio vaccinations.
It is vital that people understand that vaccinations improve overall health and drive development. Additionally, there are impressive financial benefits to eradicating polio – in the sum of an estimated $40 billion or more – with most of them accruing in the world’s poorest countries. Success of this nature begs the question: what do we, the global community, have to lose?
– Caitlin Zusy