As the eradication of polio nears, a new crisis for global health looms

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The world — or the part that pays attention to polio eradication, anyway — has fixed its sights on zero, the nearly 30-year-old goal of stopping transmission of the paralyzing virus that causes polio. But as the finish line comes into view, officials are largely overlooking a big potential problem, a new report warned Monday.

The wind-down of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative and the roughly $1 billion a year it funnels into the World Health Organization as well as immunization efforts in a number of low-income countries is already underway.

Funding for the initiative is scheduled to be halved by 2019, and to cease after that, except in countries that are still battling polio then or at high risk of seeing the virus return. That will severely deplete the resources of a number of already cash-strapped countries, straining their capacity to continue to vaccinate against polio and other childhood diseases like measles and rotavirus, which causes severe and sometimes life-threatening diarrhea.

It could also punch big holes in the surveillance network needed to ensure that polio and polio-vaccine viruses (which can also paralyze) are truly gone, the report suggested, noting that 70 percent of global funding for surveillance comes from the initiative.

“People need to start talking about this issue. Because it’s much wider than just polio and a polio-free world,” said Laura Kerr, who wrote the report. “It’s to do with immunization systems that could collapse.”

Photo courtesy of PolioPlus Pakistan.

Source: STAT (link opens in a new window)

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