ACCORDING to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, polio cases remain only in Pakistan and Afghanistan.—Photo courtesy Unicef
ACCORDING to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, polio cases remain only in Pakistan and Afghanistan.—Photo courtesy Unicef

ISLAMABAD: Global public health leaders, who gathered at the World Health Assembly in Geneva, have called for urgent action to eradicate polio once and for all.

Delegates at the recently-held World Health Assembly concluded that right now a ‘window of opportunity’ existed for taking an effective action against the poliovirus but cautioned that this opportunity will not remain open indefinitely. Their call came after experts pointed to recent concerning developments such as new cases confirmed in Pakistan, the first cases reported in fifteen months in south-east Africa and polio re-emergence in Ukraine and Israel.

A press release issued by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative on Monday says that recent efforts have had a clear impact on the global epidemiology of poliovirus, with endemic wild poliovirus transmission at extremely low levels, with just Pakistan and Afghanistan remaining endemic, and efforts to curb circulating vaccine-derived polioviruses (cVDPVs) bearing fruit.

Steps have been taken towards securing the legacy of polio eradication systems and know-how, under the Strategic Action Plan for Polio Transition, it says.

“Worrying developments in recent months highlight how fragile this progress is,” said WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, while addressing the Assembly. “These developments are tragic for the children affected and their families. But the reality is that in the final stages of an eradication effort, this is expected.

This year, we have the real opportunity to halt wild poliovirus transmission. At the same time, we must respond faster and better to cVDPV outbreaks, to interrupt all transmission by end-2023,” he said.

Ministers and high-level delegations from 20 countries of regions affected by both WPV1 and cVDPV met with senior GPEI leaders for focused discussions on concrete ways to close the final chains of virus transmission. The meetings were chaired by Polio Oversight Board chair Dr Chris Elias from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and respective WHO AFRO and EMRO Regional Directors, Dr Matshidiso Rebecca Moeti and Dr Ahmed Al-Mandhari.

Key priorities were the importance of reaching zero-dose children, the challenges of complex emergencies and weak health systems, as well as the importance of inter-country coordination and collaboration.

Underscoring the urgency in giving the world one less infectious disease to worry about once and for all, Dr Tedros issued a clear challenge to the Assem­bly: “For countries affected by polio, it is imperative that you reach every last child, and that you respond to vaccine-derived strains with the same urgency as you would to a wild strain.”

For countries that are now polio-free, it is crucial to accelerate efforts to use your polio assets and infrastructure to build stronger, more resilient health systems. And for all partners and donors, please help us seize the moment to raise funding, for eradication and transition.

Published in Dawn, May 31st, 2022

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