‘Close to defeating polio… movement needs to be sustained’

Global declaration calls for full funding of Polio Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan 2013-2018.

Written by Anuradha Mascarenhas | Published: April 13, 2013 12:58 am

With total elimination of polio as goal,scientists,doctors and other experts from 80 countries including several cities in India on Thursday signed the global initiative,Scientific Declaration on Polio Eradication.

There are over 430 signatories to the declaration that calls for “full funding and implementation of Polio Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan 2013-2018,developed by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI)”.

Talking about the initiative,Dr Anand Pandit,Head of the Department of Paediatrics,KEM Hospital in Pune,said,“We have come very close to defeating polio. The movement needs to be sustained.”

The declaration endorses a new strategy for a polio-free world by 2018 and came days after the 60th anniversary of the announcement of Jonas Salk’s revolutionary polio vaccine on May 26,1953. The declaration also coincided with the 58th anniversary of Salk making it public — on April 12,1955 — after testing its efficacy that an effective vaccine against the virus had been created.

India,long-regarded as the most difficult place to eliminate polio,has not recorded a case in more than two years. Only three polio-endemic countries remain on the map. Globally,223 new cases of wild poliovirus were recorded in 2012,a historic low that marked a 99% decrease from the estimated 350,000 cases in 1988,and only 16 have been reported in 2013 (as of April 9).

GPEI estimates the cost of completely weeding out the disease by 2018 at $5.5 billion. One of the signatories,Dr Walter Orenstein,professor and associate director of the Emory Vaccine Center at Emory University,who is among the signatories who were also on the forefront of ending smallpox,said,“We have tools,we need a time-limited opening to defeat polio. The GPEI plan is the comprehensive roadmap that,if followed,will get us there.”

Dr J M Deshpande,coordinator of the national task force on laboratory containment in the country said the declaration calls upon the international community to meet GPEI goals for delivering polio vaccines to more children at risk,particularly in Afghanistan,Nigeria and Pakistan,where polio remains endemic and where emergency action plans launched over the past year have resulted in significant improvements in vaccine coverage.

“Securing a lasting polio-free world goes hand in hand with strengthening routine immunization. We need all countries to prioritize investments in routine immunization,” said Dr Zulfiqar Bhutta,founding director of Centre of Excellence in Women and Child Health at Aga Khan University,Pakistan.

Dr Bhutta,one of the declaration’s leaders,is a member of the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunization,a technical advisory body to the GPEI.

The declaration urges vaccine manufacturers to provide an affordable supply of different vaccines for eradication,and asks scientists to continue research to find new and better tools. In view of the recent attacks on health workers in some endemic countries,the declaration also stresses the need of protecting polio vaccination teams.

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