Relentless pursuit of an equitable world

The Optimist

Mother with child receiving vaccination

Has the fight against polio been worth it?

Yes, it has.

In all of history, we have eradicated just one human infectious disease — smallpox in 1978. Forty years later, we’re incredibly close to doing it again with polio. In 2017, there were only 22 cases of wild poliovirus worldwide reported from just a few areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Thirty years ago, the polio virus circulated in 125 countries, paralyzing nearly 1,000 children every day. In fact, 16 million people are walking the earth today who — without the effort to end polio — would have been paralyzed by the disease. The progress we’ve made is astonishing.

A decade ago, the Gates Foundation joined the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) with its spearheading partners — Rotary International, UNICEF, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization — because we were convinced that polio eradication was a worthwhile and achievable goal. Our view hasn’t changed. Today, we’re almost at the finish line. International collaboration, government leadership, financial commitment, and the dedication of individual health workers and groups like Rotary have gotten us to this threshold of ending polio for good. And the world will be a better and more equitable place when all children, everywhere, are free of the risk of death and paralysis caused by the polio virus.

The final push for the interruption of polio transmission in the remaining endemic countries has included an intensification of immunization campaigns and surveillance, which has taxed limited domestic finances and human resources. At the same time, it has helped develop assets that serve other disease control efforts. As we approach the finish line for polio eradication, a concerted transition effort has begun to secure the assets built by GPEI so that they protect the gains of polio eradication and serve other global health priorities in the future.

About the Author

Chris Elias
Chris Elias is the president of the Global Development Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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