Today, World Polio Day, is a reminder of all that has been achieved in the fight against polio. There is much to celebrate; fewer children than ever before suffer this cruel disease, and for the first time in its history, this year, India was declared polio free.
However, children in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria — the three remaining polio-endemic countries — are still affected by the ravages of this virus. And it is the children in the hardest to reach areas of these countries that are most at risk.
“India’s example shows us we can reach them. And we will reach them – by working together. In September at the UN General Assembly, the leaders of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria, as well as government donors, civil society and the private sector all reconfirmed their commitment to rid the world of polio,” stated Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director commenting on the occasion.
“We have come so far together in the fight to end polio. We have the means to finish the job. We can make history. Or we can fail to seize the moment. Let history judge us harshly, let a polio-free world be our legacy to the next generation of children,” Lake insisted.
It is indeed a long hard fight the one against polio. The main thing that could threaten the polio eradication effort would be a dramatic funding shortfall (estimated at $945 million, which represents almost half the amount originally budgeted for 2012-13).
Recently, the reality of balancing the budget has led certain countries, especially in central and western Africa, to cancel or postpone polio immunization drives. The consequences could be catastrophic; millions of children could get polio from individuals travelling from endemic countries. The budget gap needs to be closed so all planned immunization drives can take place and the disease needs to be contained within its current sanctuaries.
The total budget for 2012-2013 is $2,19 billion of which $1,24 billion is covered already. The affected countries contribute roughly 20% to that total amount. Rotary International together with the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation count for 15%. The G8 puts in 14% and 6% from NGO’s such as UNICEF.
Alarmed by the funding shortfall and cancelled vaccination drives, the World Health Assembly voted on May 25 to declare the polio situation to be a “global emergency” that needs a quick response. The Review Board of the Global Eradication Initiative issued a report warning that cutbacks in vaccination drives are “escalating the risk of an explosive return of polio just as it is at its lowest level in history.”
The report further identified 20 African countries that were infected by polio imported from Nigeria from 2006-10, 18 of which have now cancelled or trimmed vaccination campaigns because of the funding shortfall. It is also estimated that 94 million children will be affected by the cutbacks by the end of this year.
In spite of the huge achievements years of fighting against polio-endemic has achieved, it seems the situation is now critical and the work is far from done, yet.