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Polio Eradication Plan Is Working, But Continued Support Necessary

“Just as we were seeing record-low cases of polio worldwide and coming closer than ever to eradication, 105 new cases of wild polio have been identified in Kenya and Somalia, raising new concerns about low coverage and inaccessible populations in that area,” Helen Rees, executive director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, writes in an AllAfrica.com guest column. “While the outbreaks are undoubtedly a setback, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) had anticipated that sporadic cases would occur in vulnerable settings during the final push for polio eradication, and it’s noteworthy that the situation has been met with one of the quickest and most effective emergency responses to date,” she states, adding, “Fortunately, containing outbreaks, such as those in the Horn of Africa, is a crucial part of the GPEI’s Polio Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan 2013-2018.” She notes, “Over the past 10 years, the GPEI has improved its outbreak response by systematically learning lessons from the more than 100 polio outbreaks that have occurred worldwide,” and she describes these efforts.

“But responding to outbreaks is only one element of the GPEI’s multifaceted eradication plan, which outlines a comprehensive series of steps all countries should take to achieve eradication by 2018” and “includes significant resources for the rapid fortification of routine immunization systems,” Rees continues, providing additional details of the plan. “A fully funded plan ensures that tradeoffs are not made in emergency situations by using a meticulous modeling process to budget for future outbreaks,” she writes. “Eradicating polio is a daunting challenge, but new knowledge and innovations are leading the way,” she notes, adding, “Applying these lessons to routine health programs will pave the way for the delivery of measles and rubella vaccines, as well as new vaccines and other health interventions, to previously unreached children.” Rees states, “It’s a tall order to reduce costs and increase vaccine uptake — especially in communities that have low motivation to prevent diseases they do not even see and where fear and social disruption hamper progress — but this will be the challenge of the future.” She concludes, “The world has a plan to end polio. It’s working, and we must stand behind it” (8/5).