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Reuters Examines Experts’ Concerns About Global Polio Eradication Effort

Reuters examines the global effort to eradicate polio and how failure to eliminate the disease could affect future global health undertakings. “Global health and vaccines experts say they have polio ‘on the ropes,’ but are frustrated that the goal of eradicating it continues to elude them more than 20 years after they set their sights on it. They fear failure could crush trust in other major disease projects such as fighting malaria, HIV or measles,” according to the news service.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative, launched by the WHO and partners in 1988, has significantly reduced the number of polio cases around the world and the disease is now endemic in only four countries. So far this year, 706 cases have been reported, down from 1,126 at the same time last year, “but more than 570 of those have been in countries that had previously managed to banish it and are now fighting outbreaks re-seeded from endemic countries,” Reuters reports.

“The failure to eradicate polio so far means there is a smell of a suspicion about all vaccine initiatives,” said David Salisbury, former chair of the WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization. “That’s why we must achieve polio eradication. We need to demonstrate that it can be done.”

Joe Cerrell, head of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s European office, said, “If the global health community is asking international donors to take on long-term, but we think achievable, goals like malaria eradication or developing an HIV vaccine – things that may seem like moon shots to some – then the confidence of those donors will be really compromised by our record on polio.”

The article continues: “Global health advocacy groups say they are already coming up against reluctance from governments of wealthy donor nations – who have an ever keen eye on their electorates and the need for budget cuts – who want to channel aid into shorter-term goals that can become quick and demonstrable success stories.”

Reuters also looks at how recent polio outbreaks in Angola and Tajikistan could threaten eradication efforts, in part, because of the high cost of emergency response campaigns. The article also quotes Walt Orenstein, deputy director for vaccine-preventable diseases at Gates Foundation, and the WHO’s Sona Bari (Kelland, 10/13). A Reuters Factbox highlights some polio statistics (10/13).

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