ISLAMABAD: Global leaders on Tuesday confirmed $2.6 billion in funding towards the Global Polio Eradication Initiative’s 2022-2026 strategy to end polio at a pledging moment at the World Health Summit in Berlin.

The funding will support global efforts to overcome the final hurdles to polio eradication, vaccinate 370 million children annually over the next five years and continue disease surveillance across 50 countries.

Wild poliovirus is endemic in just two countries — Pakistan and Afghanistan. However, after just six cases were recorded in 2021, 29 cases have been recorded so far this year, including a small number of new detections in southeast Africa linked to a strain originating in Pakistan.

Additionally, outbreaks of Circulating Vaccine-derived Poliovirus (cVDPV), variants of the poliovirus that can emerge in places where not enough people have been immunized, continue to spread across parts of Africa, Asia and Europe, with new outbreaks detected in the United States, Israel and the United Kingdom in recent months.

“The new detections of polio this year in previously polio-free countries are a stark reminder that if we do not deliver our goal of ending polio everywhere, it may resurge globally,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director General. “We are grateful for donors’ new and continued support for eradication, but there is further work to do to fully fund the 2022-2026 strategy. We must remember the significant challenges we have overcome to get this far against polio, stay the course and finish the job once and for all.”

The pledging moment in Berlin marked the first major opportunity to pledge support toward the $4.8 billion needed to fully implement the 2022-2026 Strategy. If the Strategy is fully funded and eradication achieved, it is estimated that it would result in $33.1 billion in health cost savings this century compared to the price of controlling outbreaks.

Further, continued support for GPEI will enable it to deliver additional health services and immunizations alongside polio vaccines to underserved communities.

In addition to the funding for GPEI announced today, a group of more than 3000 influential scientists, physicians, and public health experts from around the world released a declaration endorsing the 2022-2026 Strategy and calling on donors to stay committed to eradication and ensure GPEI is fully funded.

The group points to new tactics contained in the programme’s strategy, like the continued roll-out of the novel oral polio vaccine type-2 (nOPV2), that make them confident in GPEI’s ability to end polio.

Five hundred million doses of nOPV2 have already been administered across 23 countries, and field data continue to show its promise as a tool to more sustainably stop outbreaks of type-2 cVDPV.

The group further asserts that support for eradication significantly strengthens immunisation systems and pandemic preparedness around the world — pointing to GPEI’s support for the Covid-19 response — and urges endemic and polio-affected country leadership to stay committed to expanded vaccination and disease surveillance activities.

“Pakistan has made incredible progress against polio, but recent challenges have allowed the virus to persist,” says Dr Zulfi Bhutta, Chair of Child Global Health, Hospital for Sick Children, Canada, and a professor of Aga Khan University.

“Polio, like any virus, knows no borders; its continued transmission threatens children everywhere. Stopping this disease is not just urgently needed now, it’s within our grasp. That’s why I have joined more than three thousand health experts from around the world to launch the 2022 Scientific Declaration on Polio Eradication. With strong financial and political commitments, our long-awaited vision of a polio-free world can become a reality,” Dr Bhutta said.

Published in Dawn, October 19th, 2022

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