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Polio Can Be Eradicated Using Lessons From Smallpox

“With only 223 wild poliovirus cases in five countries in 2012, the paralytic disease has been knocked down to just a handful of small reservoirs. Recognizing this historic opportunity to achieve eradication, we have enthusiastically joined more than 400 scientists from 80 countries to sign the Scientific Declaration on Polio Eradication,” Larry Brilliant, president and CEO of the Skoll Global Threats Fund, and William Foege, a senior fellow in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Health Program — both of whom ” served more than three decades ago on the team that eradicated smallpox, the only other human disease to be wiped from the planet” — write in a Scientific American guest blog. “Through the declaration, we are endorsing a clear path — not just an aspiration — to bring an end to polio: the new Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan,” developed under the auspices of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), they state. “We see in the polio endgame plan the same hallmarks of success that guided smallpox eradication to completion,” they continue.

First, there “is a relentless focus on pulling out the roots of the disease, no matter how challenging the circumstances,” Brilliant and Foege write. Second, the plan leaves room for “creative problem-solving” and “spectacular innovation,” such as GIS mapping technology that allows for the tracking of missed areas in vaccination campaigns, they note. Third, the polio eradication effort is “learning from setbacks,” they state, adding, “We are encouraged that the polio effort is taking a page from smallpox by continually reviewing where past approaches have been insufficient.” They continue, “Perhaps the most important way in which polio eradication builds on smallpox is by following up after a country eliminates the disease by building systems for other national health priorities.” The authors conclude, “Now, the global community must meet its collective responsibility to ensure implementation of the plan, including fully funding it upfront and promoting shared accountability. By working together, we will soon relegate polio — alongside smallpox — to the history books” (4/22).