Global coalition seeks $4.8 billion for polio eradication initiative

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative said Tuesday that it is seeking $4.8 billion to fund operations over the next five years aimed at finally ridding the world of polio.

The partners in the effort announced the funding request as they laid out an investment case for the program. A pledging conference will be held in Germany in October. They said the world would save $33.1 billion this century by eradicating polio, compared to the cost of continually battling to contain it.

“Despite enormous progress, polio still paralyzes far too many children around the world — and even one child is too many,” said Catherine Russell, executive director of UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund. “We must do whatever it takes to finish the fight — and achieve a polio-free world for every child.”

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Other partners in the polio eradication initiative are the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the service group Rotary International.

The request comes at a difficult time, with war in Ukraine, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, and other crises competing for available aid dollars.

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It also comes at a pivotal time for the polio program. The past year has seen record low numbers of children paralyzed by wild polio but rising numbers of children in an increasing number of countries paralyzed by vaccine-derived polio viruses — viruses from the oral vaccine used in some parts of the world that have regained the power to paralyze and are circulating like wild polio. Last year nearly 700 children in 23 countries were paralyzed by these vaccine-derived viruses.

There are only two countries in which polio remains endemic — where circulation has never been stopped: Pakistan and Afghanistan. Those two countries reported a total of two wild polio cases in 2021. After going a full year without a case, Pakistan recently announced the discovery of a new case.

But excitement over those low numbers was tempered by the discovery that wild polio viruses from Pakistan had made their way to Malawi, where a young girl was paralyzed in November. Malawi and four neighboring countries are in the midst of multiple rounds of vaccination to try to prevent the virus from again taking root in Africa.

Source: STAT