Oversight Board reaffirms unflagging commitment
Statement by heads of agencies of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative
On 26 September, the Polio Oversight Board (POB) – made up of the heads of Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) partners WHO, UNICEF, Rotary International and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and senior leadership of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation— met for the first time with donors such as Norway, the US, Canada, Japan and the Islamic Development Bank, and other key stakeholders such as the Nigerian and Pakistani governments and the GAVI Alliance, to review progress against the GPEI’s Polio Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan 2013-2018, launched earlier this year.
The POB’s mandate is to provide strong, active leadership of the global polio eradication program and to maintain the highest levels of accountability and transparency among the GPEI’s core agencies.
Last September, during the UN General Assembly, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon joined heads of state from Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan, as well as donor government officials and donors from the public and private sectors, to commit the political leadership needed to stamp out polio forever. Earlier this year, the World Health Assembly unanimously approved a six-year Polio Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan to achieve a polio-free world by 2018. World leaders had previously met in Abu Dhabi to pledge US$4 billion in support of the plan, more than three-quarters of its projected cost.
Today, we reaffirm our agencies’ unflagging commitment to support governments and national authorities to implement the GPEI’s Polio Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan 2013-2018, and to realize the health benefits polio eradication will bring worldwide.
Last week, we met to review progress on commitments made last year to an emergency approach to complete polio eradication by 2018. We assessed the impact of those commitments, and noted the progress made against the Strategic Plan in the face of serious challenges.
The GPEI’s top priority remains interrupting polio transmission in endemic countries, and success is now largely dependent on eliminating the virus in relatively small geographic areas of Pakistan and Nigeria. We are encouraged that polio cases are down 45 percent in Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan from this point last year. Afghanistan has had the most striking decline, down more than 80% compared to last year, and has recorded just four cases this year. We heard from health ministers from Pakistan and Nigeria about critical actions being taken to address continuing transmission in their countries, including establishing access to those few remaining areas where children have not received the polio vaccine.
Threats of violence against the heroic women and men who deliver polio vaccines remain a serious concern and we discussed the GPEI partner agencies’ and country governments’ responses to the distinct challenges of reaching children in insecure areas, including building trust in high-risk areas by expanding health services and engaging local and religious leaders.
We remain hopeful that the global program is closing in on the elimination of one of the last two remaining types of wild poliovirus (type 3), which has not been detected anywhere in the world in more than 10 months. The upcoming low transmission season (November to April) in countries currently affected by polio transmission will be crucial, and we agreed that endemic country plans could be further refined to capitalize on this unprecedented opportunity.
The outbreak in the Horn of Africa, where more than 190 cases have been reported following importation of the virus earlier this year, and the recent detection of poliovirus in sewage samples in Israel are grave reminders of the ongoing risks to previously polio-free areas of the world if we do not complete eradication. We reviewed measures underway to quickly halt these outbreaks to prevent further spread, and we will evaluate progress and areas of risk again in two months. We also examined the ongoing transmission of poliovirus in Israel following an importation into that country, and discussed the measures being taken to interrupt that transmission and prevent polio cases in Israel and surrounding countries.
The new GPEI Strategic Plan emphasizes strengthening immunization systems and accelerating the introduction of Inactivated Polio Vaccine (IPV). We heard specific plans to leverage the polio infrastructure to improve routine immunization in 10 focus countries. Work is already underway in Nigeria, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chad, India and Pakistan, with the goal of achieving at least 10 percent annual increase in DTP3 coverage in 80% of high-risk districts. Strengthening these systems is critical to halting polio transmission and ensuring delivery of other critical health interventions to the world’s most vulnerable children.
We also reviewed concrete strategies for tackling the major challenge of introducing at least one dose of IPV in more than 100 countries by the end of 2015, which we are pursuing in close coordination with our partners in the GAVI Alliance. These strategies include communicating the rationale for and urgency of IPV introduction to national policy makers and ensuring the availability of appropriate and affordable IPV and Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) products for all settings.
As leaders of the agencies charged with implementing the GPEI Strategic Plan, we are committed to closely monitoring our organizations’ work and ensuring we are doing everything possible to fulfill the plan’s objectives. The Polio Oversight Board’s stewardship and guidance will be measured against specific operational, financing and human resource metrics that were shared today with donors and key stakeholders. This enhanced accountability will play a critical role in ensuring we achieve a polio-free world by 2018.”
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), launched in 1988, is spearheaded by national governments, the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF, and supported by key partners including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The GPEI Polio Oversight Board is made up of the heads of agencies of GPEI partners (WHO Director General Dr. Margaret Chan, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, Rotary International Past President Wilf Wilkinson, and CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden) and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Global Development President Dr. Chris Elias.